A chilly September evening at an empty Old Trafford felt no way to stage a World Cup reunion party and sure enough England’s night fell flat, with Australia prevailing by 19 runs to go 1-0 up in this three-match ODI series.
Set 295 to win by the tourists, Eoin Morgan’s side were staring at a record run chase, though with nine players from last summer’s triumph at Lord’s and a hefty back catalogue of similar such hits, few could rule it out.
But under lights – and against the three seamers who helped retain the Ashes in Manchester 12 months ago – the world champions could only muster 275 for nine by the time the 50 overs were up, despite a career-best 118 from Sam Billings that had him go down swinging off the final delivery.
While Glenn Maxwell (77) and Mitchell Marsh (73) steered Australia to 294 for nine from their 50 overs it was Josh Hazlewood who shone brightest, delivering a new-ball spell from his Test match playbook, finishing with figures of three for 26 and claiming a fine tumbling catch in the deep to remove Jonny Bairstow for 84.
The 29-year-old was impeccable from the outset, hitting a metronomic groove and enjoying a smidgeon of movement to remove Jason Roy with a stunning one-handed return catch and Joe Root thanks to a more classical edge behind.
These strikes, the thrift of Mitchell Starc and Pat Cummins, plus a lack of fluency from Bairstow saw the scoreboard a mere 22 for two at the end of the initial powerplay, allowing Adam Zampa to cash in on England’s need to get moving in a match in which the leg-spinner claim four for 55.
Morgan was first to succumb to Zampa, cracking him to Maxwell at short mid-wicket on 23 though the catch of the day belonged to Marnus Labuschagne, who initially lost sight of Jos Buttler’s attempted six over long-off before recovering to take a superb diving effort.
From 57 for four, Billings and Bairstow began to fight back, adding 113 in 19 overs. But when the latter holed out off Zampa and Moeen Ali tamely chipped Hazlewood to extra cover when seeing off the right-armer’s final over seemed the way to go, the game was effectively up at 182 for six in the 39th over.
With Chris Woakes falling in Zampa’s final over, Billings tried his best to take it deep and an innings of inventive sweeps and crisp drives led to him being rewarded with a maiden international century. There were still 39 runs required off the final 11 balls when he did so and not even the miracle worker he was deputising for – Ben Stokes – would be expected to pull that one off.
Australia had gone into the match without Steve Smith, the master batsman having been struck on the head in the nets 24 hours earlier. Though he passed an initial concussion test, a further one is required before Sunday’s second fixture.
In Smith’s absence, and having been put in by Morgan at the toss, the tourists then stumbled to 123 for five by the 24th over – kickstarted by Jofra Archer bowling David Warner for six with a beauty that nipped across the opener.
Both Archer and fellow quick Mark Wood were playing their first ODI since last summer’s World Cup final and the latter, on at first change, nicked off Aaron Finch with his opening delivery before extinguishing a lively start from Smith’s replacement, Marcus Stoinis, when caught behind for 43 from 34 balls. Adil Rashid, with praise from Morgan ringing in his ears, then continued the sorcery witnessed during the T20s, trapping Labuschagne lbw for 21 with a slider and persuading Alex Carey to a top-edge a sweep to short fine-leg.
Marsh, steadily accumulating his runs, was joined by the more dynamic Maxwell and the pair compiled Australia’s highest sixth-wicket stand against England in ODI cricket with 126 runs in 20 overs. Morgan, needing a breakthrough, could have been forgiven for wondering if Liam Plunkett wasn’t pensioned off too soon.
Maxwell in particular put those rubbery wrists to good effect, needing only 43 balls for his half-century – 32 fewer than Marsh – and signaling his intention to ignite the afterburners in the 44th over with consecutive sixes off the returning Archer.
Archer struck back straight away, Maxwell chopping a slower ball on to his stumps and then fooled Cummins with a knuckleball, before Wood snuffed out Marsh’s patient innings lbw with three overs remaining.
And with Woakes removing Zampa caught and bowled in the 50th, England had seemingly limited the damagebut Starc launched the final ball of the innings for six, giving Australia a little boost before Hazlewood took charge.