Mitchell Starc hit the top and tail either side of Adam Zampa spinning down the middle to throw England 72 runs short of Australia’s 280 for eight at the Sydney Cricket Ground on Saturday night.
James Vince and Sam Billings led a recovery of 34 for three, eventually getting back into the chase with an excellent partnership worth 132, needing another 124 with less than a run per ball. But as Vince fell for 60 and Billings for 71, the chase fell away in a run of seven for 52 to hand Australia the one-day international series 2–0.
It was another good day for bowlers after a T20 World Cup that maintained a competitive balance between bat and ball. The SCG surface offered plenty and with regular captains Jos Buttler and Pat Cummins rested the teams led by England all-rounder Moeen Ali and Australian speedy Josh Hazlewood. However, it was Starc who enjoyed his outing the most.
During the recent World Cup, Starc was moved from his long-held role in opening the bowling, with Australia’s management addressing him as a mediocre enforcer before dropping him for a match against Afghanistan which Australia needed to win by a mile.
With the new ball returned to him in these ODIs, Starc resumed taking wickets. Jason Roy was surprised by bouncing on his hip, putting back gloves on Alex Carey, before Dawid Malan got the full swinging ball Roy expected, off his pads and into his stumps. Starc had a girl with a double wicket.
Hazlewood backed him up and viciously cut the ball in an enthralling battle with Phil Salt who cut 23 from 16 before pulling away and losing his stumps. Down three in the sixth over, Vince responded with a jewel of an innings, deflecting good balls while counterattacking with style, culminating in a lofted six over cover from Ashton Agar.
Billings was patchy in comparison, surviving an accurate lbw review from Zampa, but surviving until he smoothed out, including consecutive sixes from Agar in the 22nd over. The batters reached 50 within six balls of each other. Hazlewood reversed course, the alternate captain swinging a ball back to hit Vince up front.
His opposing captain took on Zampa, Moeen hit four and six off his first two spins, but the leg spinner was too good and fired a faster throw through Moeen’s back foot defense. Zampa’s next strike showed his range, floating and bobbing under the bat of the advancing Billings, hitting the stumps again with dramatically different means. Four balls later airtime and a googly saw Sam Curran cut his big hit to long distance. It was 169 to seven, and just about over.
Starc returned to hit the stumps of Chris Woakes and David Willey before Zampa trapped Liam Dawson, the bowlers finished with four wickets each. Only Wasim Akram, Brett Lee, Muttiah Muralitharan and Wasim Akram have done so more times than Starc in one-day cricket, and he has played less than half of all matches.
For Australia, a good day with the ball matched the bat. David Warner and Travis Head made another fast start for 33 before both hollowing out for under-20s, but Steve Smith and Marnus Labuschagne built a measured partnership of 101, assessing the difficulty of the pitch and the quality of the bowling when Woakes discovered a reverse swing, Willey used variations and Adil Rashid teased through the air.
Rashid took both out, but not before Labuschagne reached 58 and Smith went through to 94. Mitchell Marsh also found it difficult to hit out on this surface in Sydney, hitting two sixes but usually working the ball into holes, hitting modified his game to build an even 50 from 59.
Agar provided some late momentum, mostly by running hard rather than pushing boundaries, and 280 proved to be a very good score in the conditions. The result is likely to shrug off a changing England squad: Moeen, Curran, Woakes and Rashid were the inclusions after the first game, with Buttler, Chris Jordan, Olly Stone and Luke Wood dropping out.
For Australia, Warner, Smith and Carey all helped out when it came to bowling changes and field placements. But if a trivia question is asked about Australian one-day captains 20 years from now, and Josh Hazlewood is the surprising answer, at least he’ll know he got away with a win.
“It was pretty exciting and a bit nerve wracking,” Hazlewood said afterwards. “I definitely enjoyed it.” The replacement skipper also praised the impact of Starc’s swing. “It was probably unexpected,” Hazlewood said. “There wasn’t really anyone else’s swing for the entire game. There were beauties there.”
“You know exactly what he’s going to do, but reacting to it is another thing,” said England’s Vince. “You need a bit of luck against a ball like that [to dismiss Malan]. We lost those wickets early, we had to rebuild a bit, we got it going and once I was out there was another flurry that stopped play.
“I would have liked a bigger contribution to get us towards the goal, same with Bilbo [Billings]added Vince. “If we could have maintained that cooperation longer, we would have given ourselves a better chance of winning.”