There was once a time when Gary Lineker’s famous football aphorism – “Twenty-two men chase a ball for 90 minutes and at the end the Germans win” – could be transposed almost directly across to cricket and Australia. And while they may have fallen some way since the green-and-golden era in which they won four World Cups out of five between 1999 and 2015, victory over England in Friday’s opening ODI was a reminder of their enduring qualities.
Australia’s successful defence of 294 on a surface that offered batsmen a fine balance between risk and reward was also a rebuke to the big-hitting blueprint that has made England the frontrunners in this format – albeit that coming into the series Eoin Morgan had expressed the hope that his side could expand their range while preparing for a World Cup in India in three years’ time. In that regard, their recovery from a most parlous Powerplay to lose by 19 runs, on the back of Sam Billings’ maiden hundred, was a nugget of encouragement for the home side.
The dividends for Australia, playing their first one-dayer since March, were more obvious. For Aaron Finch, the match-turning stand of 126 between Mitchell Marsh and Glenn Maxwell was both boon and balm, helping to sooth the long-standing sore spot that is Australia’s ODI middle order. That Finch has the attack at his disposal to protect such totals was a matter of less quibbling, but the way they tore into England at the top – led by the magnificent Josh Hazlewood – reinforced the sense they can still play the game on their own terms.
The circumstances in which Australia’s sixth-wicket pair came to the fore were also encouraging. Only twice in their last 19 ODIs have Australia won without a 50-plus contribution from Finch, David Warner or Steven Smith (the other was against New Zealand at Lord’s during the World Cup). In achieving the right balance between repair job and counterattack, Marsh and Maxwell looked capable of finding the combination to unlock Australia’s batting potential.
England could still reflect that had Tom Banton, fielding as a substitute at long-on, been slightly more alert to the chance offered when Maxwell had scored just 10, their target might have been more in the region of 195. Jofra Archer and Mark Wood, both back in the side for the first time since the World Cup final, gave England’s attack greater cutting edge, though the burden for taking middle-overs wickets still lies heavily on Adil Rashid.
There was also a rustiness to their batting, with Jason Roy still searching for form after returning from injury and Joe Root playing his first limited-overs international since February. Nothing exemplified England’s initial struggle, in the face of some top-rank bowling, more than Jonny Bairstow scratching his way to 22 off 58 (strike rate 37.9). That he fought through to make 84, alongside Billings helping to give them a puncher’s chance during the closing stages, should keep Australia on their guard going into the second game.
(last five completed matches)
In the spotlight
More than five years after his England debut, Sam Billings finally played the innings that his talent long suggested he was capable of. In that period, Billings has only batted 16 times in ODIs (roughly three outings a year), usually little more than one-off appearances – but since Joe Denly’s back spasm before the Ireland series in July offered him a route back in, he has produced scores of 67*, 46*, 19 and 118. Even if he keeps it up, his place may only be secure until the return of Ben Stokes. But after missing out on last year’s World Cup through injury, Billings seems intent on making up for lost time.
While England’s batting has faced a problem of plenty, Australia have long been auditioning candidates for their middle order. Mitchell Marsh has had to deal with injuries, as well as the vagaries of selection, but hadn’t played an ODI for more than two years before returning on the South Africa tour in early 2020; ahead of this series, Finch said Australia had been guilty of “shuffling him around to try and fit other pieces in”, but he indicated Marsh would now be given time to make the spot his own. An ability to dovetail with Maxwell augurs well, and could help ease the pressure on Alex Carey as Australia seek stability at Nos. 5-7.
England have tended to react to defeat under Morgan by sending the same players out to try and atone.
England (probable) 1 Jason Roy, 2 Jonny Bairstow, 3 Joe Root, 4 Eoin Morgan, 5 Sam Billings, 6 Jos Buttler (wk), 7 Moeen Ali, 8 Chris Woakes, 9 Adil Rashid, 10 Mark Wood, 11 Jofra Archer
Smith passed his second concussion test on Saturday, following the blow in training that kept him out of the first match, but will continue to be monitored. His return would likely come at the expense of Marcus Stoinis. Mitchell Starc experienced some “minor upper leg soreness” after slipping on the outfield and could be a doubt, with Kane Richardson standing by.
Australia (probable) 1 David Warner, 2 Aaron Finch (capt), 3 Steven Smith/Marcus Stoinis, 4 Marnus Labuschagne, 5 Mitchell Marsh, 6 Alex Carey (wk), 7 Glenn Maxwell, 8 Pat Cummins, 9 Mitchell Starc/Kane Richardson, 10 Adam Zampa, 11 Josh Hazlewood
Pitch and conditions
The same strip will be used for a second time, which could curtail scoring further. England went with their preferred strategy of chasing in the first match but there was no sense the pitch became easier under lights, and both teams may now place a premium on getting runs on the board. Another day-night game means autumnal dew shouldn’t be a factor, while the forecast is for a warm afternoon and clear evening in Manchester.
Stats and Trivia
England have not lost a bilateral ODI series at home since 2015 (when Australia beat them 3-2), winning their last nine in a row.
The last seven ODIs at Old Trafford have all been won by the side batting first.
. Maxwell is 46 runs away from the 3000-mark in ODIs; Finch is 102 from 5000. Marsh is two wickets shy of 50.
Root needs 77 runs to reach 6000 in ODIs – if he gets there in this game, he will equal Kane Williamson as third-fastest to the mark.
“It’s [about] still being positive, not taking a backward step. How you do that on a pitch like that might not be going out all guns blazing and trying to hit the sight screens, but coming up with game plans of putting pressure back on them. [That] is why England got to No. 1 and won the World Cup.”
Sam Billings says England will keep coming hard
“Our one-day team has been under a little bit of pressure of late so it was really nice to respond with a great win. We know we are only one win away now from a series win so that’s a big carrot for us.”
Mitchell Marsh on the incentive to win again
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