On a gloomy evening of Friday at the Ageas Bowl in Southampton, Australia summoned a grim beginning on their return to professional cricket. Friday’s two-run defeat to England was closer than Australia’s loss in Port Elizabeth to South Africa in February, but it’s a lesson they had not learned.
Nevertheless, the top-order has, without a doubt been key to Australia’s surge at the top of T20I rankings. However, what has gone unaddressed is their middle-order muddle and their failure to complete achievable targets even after strong starts.
That very component of Australia, which was not viewed as concerning, stung them in Southampton for the second time this year. Similar to their loss in South Africa, Aaron Finch and David Warner began the run-chase brightly when they required in 159.
An unbeaten half-century from Warner was not enough as the other batsmen left him stalling at the other end, eventually falling 12 runs short. On Friday, the opening pair went two steps ahead, compiling nearly a century stand before the middle and lower-order faltered. Result? From 124-1 in 14 overs to 160-6 in 20 overs.
The culprits remain aplenty after their tidy bowling and fielding performance. Even as skipper Finch owned the responsibility of not kicking on, the batsmen behind him held the onus of finishing games, dubbed for a purpose as finishers.
Besides, Steve Smith’s mighty slog followed by Glenn Maxwell’s flogging began delivering England the belief of a tiny opening. Warner did his part before Jofra Archer managed to strike the stumps somehow. And that was when the prospect of a tourists’ victory looked far.
Marcus Stoinis’ astonishing run for the Melbourne Stars while batting at the top held little relevance here. It was only during Warner’s exile from cricket that Stoinis opened, both of which ended in single-score figures. And Stoinis had to bat in the lower middle-order to justify the faith of the selectors and management, who played him ahead of Mitchell Marsh.
Dating back to his first ODI century, Kolkata 2017, Perth 2018, Nagpur 2019, Stoinis added to the catalogues of him failing to take Australia over the line. Perhaps, the visitors do not have too much experience and credibility to fall back on either to level the series. But Australia would be relieved knowing they have one more year on their hands to get their weakness sorted out.
England’s bowlers’ self-belief was perhaps very significant in pulling off a jailbreak that secured a two-run victory and a series lead. Tom Curran, who choked Australia in Perth two years in a 50-over game, held his nerve yet again after Stoinis belted him for a six in the second ball of the final over. It is worth noting that Stoinis did more wrong than Curran in the first half of that, failing to pounce on two length deliveries.
Equally came into play and thrived were the experience and skill of Jofra Archer, Chris Jordan, Mark Wood, and Adil Rashid, who methodically killed the opposition’s chase. But all that would not have happened if not for Dawid Malan’s measured knock of 66, specifically taking Adam Zampa for 21 runs in the 18th over or Jordan’s last-ball boundary.
But, the home side’s batsmen do need an altered approach during the middle orders and much like Australia, they stumbled too. However, the difference was, Englishmen was blessed with an anchor in the form of Malan.
England might consider giving Sam Billings a crack for the second T20 international in place of Tom Banton, who managed only eight runs from ten deliveries. However, it seems unlikely for the hosts to turn their back on Banton after only one failed knock.
Probable XI: Jos Buttler (wk), Jonny Bairstow, Dawid Malan, Tom Banton/Sam Billings, Eoin Morgan (c), Moeen Ali, Tom Curran, Chris Jordan, Adil Rashid, Jofra Archer, Mark Wood.
Despite the loss, Australia are likely to field the same side as Friday. The middle and the lower middle-order would be under the scanner and need critical contributions from them.
Probable XI: Aaron Finch (c), David Warner, Steve Smith, Glenn Maxwell, Marcus Stoinis, Alex Carey (wk), Ashton Agar, Mitchell Starc, Pat Cummins, Kane Richardson, Adam Zampa.
The pitch used on Friday would be the one Australia and England play on Sunday as well. One can expect a more sluggish track, considering how it played out in the second innings.
There remains 47% of rain forecast on Sunday; however, it is expected to stay light. As far as the temperature goes, it will be at 10 degrees Celcius.
Head to head:
Played – 17
Won by England – 7
Won by Australia – 9
No result – 1
Stats that matter:
4 – Chris Jordan still remains four wickets away from overtaking Stuart Broad’s 65 to become the highest wicket-taker for England in T20Is.
5 – Mitchell Starc stays five scalps adrift of taking over Shane Watson’s tally of 48. By doing so, the left-arm seamer will become the nation’s highest wicket-taker in T20Is.
Being the number one team, Australia would be hungry to level the series. Hence, it is highly anticipated that, they will scrape out a victory to set up a series-decider.