June 22, 2018
And so the mayhem continues. Jason Roy and Jonny Bairstow relentlessly turned the screw on a sunlit evening at Chester-le Street that made the floodlights redundant – they had been switched on between the innings even though there was almost four hours of daylight remaining.
However, there was no obvious daylight for this forlorn Australia side, whose solitary success on this tour has been their impeccable behaviour. Even in this climate that is unlikely to satisfy the hard-baked Aussies back home, if they bother to acknowledge the existence of this expedition, which has one more 50-over match, at Old Trafford on Sunday, and one Twenty20 to run.
England won by six wickets with more than five overs to spare while completing their second highest successful run-chase in ODI cricket. Three years ago they knocked off 350 against New Zealand at Trent Bridge; here it felt as if they could have chased more than that if necessary.
The openers added 174 inside 24 overs, which settled the outcome even though England had a minor hiccup or two after their departure. This time Roy, who would register his sixth ODI century from 81 balls, set the pace, with Bairstow happy to be the admirer at the other end.
Neither man could possibly have timed a cricket ball better than in the past fortnight. Moreover, Roy has looked more secure and more orthodox in his approach than ever before without diminishing his rate of progress.
He has been waiting for the ball, no matter how rapidly it has been propelled in his direction, until it is under his nose and then, usually with a straight bat, dispatching it effortlessly to the boundary. On surfaces as true as this one or at Trent Bridge the margin of error for callow bowlers has been minuscule. Bairstow has been equally intimidating. If anything he has been playing a riskier game but his eye is so sharp that the bowlers have also been in torment when he is on strike.
Once the openers had departed Ashton Agar, one Australian who will end this tour in credit, managed to dismiss Joe Root and Eoin Morgan relatively cheaply but then Jos Buttler decided to finish it all off with a flurry. Alex Hales, meanwhile, the assassin of Trent Bridge, was content to play an uncharacteristically sedate innings at the other end, just what was required.
The fact that Australia, by scoring 310 for eight, had posted the highest ever score in an ODI on this ground soon seemed an irrelevance. The game is evolving so rapidly and Bairstow and Roy are in such fine form that even at the halfway stage there was the assumption the total was insufficient.
Upon winning the toss Tim Paine immediately informed the world “We’re gonna have a bat today,” the subtext being that he must wish that he had made the same decision at Trent Bridge, which would have spared his side such humiliation.
Australia shuffled their pack by bringing in Nathan Lyon and Alex Carey and recalling Michael Neser in place of a shell-shocked Andrew Tye and D’Arcy Short as well as the injured Glenn Maxwell. This meant that Aaron Finch was restored to his rightful position at the top of the order. He was prepared to play second fiddle to Travis Head as Australia assembled a century opening partnership by the 19th over.
There was not much in the pitch for the bowlers and bowling from the Finkle End meant running into a strong breeze. By modern standards both sides were cagey in that first innings.
Australia’s batsmen, conscious to avoid another humiliation, shunned too many extravagances in pursuit of a respectable total while England, contrary to the modern ethos, were hellbent on containment rather than the pursuit of wickets. Root, introduced for the ninth over of the innings, bowled 10 without interruption and his low slung off-breaks yielded only 44 runs.
Adil Rashid broke the partnership with arguably the worst ball of the day, a long hop which Head (63) hit straight into the hands of David Willey on the midwicket boundary. Shaun Marsh, also in the form of his life, added 124 alongside Finch while Morgan juggled his spinners to the extent that they bowled 27 overs between them.
Yet the innings never quite caught fire. Finch, who hit a 105-ball century, and Marcus Stoinis, were both dismissed by Mark Wood, who delivered an excellent second spell as did Willey, who snatched three wickets in one over as fresh batsmen started swishing.
Rashid’s last over went for 25 thanks to some crisp hitting from Marsh but then Australia’s second centurion was caught on the boundary off Willey with the routine brilliance of the modern outfielder. Roy caught the ball and, recognising that his momentum was carrying him over the rope, threw the perfect pass to Craig Overton about 15 yards away before his own feet landed beyond the boundary.
This may have been the highlight of Overton’s ODI debut. He was the most expensive of England’s attack without bowling dreadfully, which can happen all too easily in the modern game. Just ask the chastened Australia bowlers, any of them.