England win series against Australia by 3-0

Third one-day international, Old Trafford: England 214-9 (49.1 overs) beat Australia 212 (46 overs) by one wicket.England’s cricketers somehow held their nerve to wrap up an unassailable 3-0 lead with two matches to come in their ODI series against Australia.

After Graeme Swann’s 4 for 37 had limited the Aussies to an eminently gettable 212, England had at one stage been coasting to victory on 185 for 3 with eight-and-a-half overs in hand, but a sensational collapse of six wickets for 18 in 38 balls meant their victory bunting had been somewhat frayed around the edges by the time Tim Bresnan slashed two desperate boundaries in the space of three deliveries to seal a one-wicket victory with five balls to spare.

The catalyst for the collapse was the dismissal of Eoin Morgan, England’s star finisher from the first two games at the Rose Bowl and Cardiff. He had joined forces with his captain, Andrew Strauss, to take England to the brink of a thumping victory when he swatted a tame pull to midwicket off Steven Smith to give Australia a sniff of an opening. Seven balls later, and with his fourth ODI century there for the taking, Strauss edged Ryan Harris with 24 still needed from 44 balls, whereupon Luke Wright hoisted Smith to long-off for a third-ball duck.

With Shaun Tait, Australia’s Twenty20 shock-jock, still lurking, England now knew they were in for a torrid finale. Playing in his first ODI since February 2009, and touching 95mph in five searing two-over spells, Tait had commanded instant respect from his opponents by yorking Craig Kieswetter for a first-ball duck, before returning in the 13th over to extract Kevin Pietersen via a sharp caught-and-bowled. His last hurrah yielded the wicket of Michael Yardy, who flashed a loose edge to the keeper, and at 197 for 7, the innings was officially on the ropes.

Graeme Swann scratched around for 1 from 10 balls before Doug Bollinger plucked out his off stump with 10 runs still needed from 17 balls, and an Old Trafford crowd that had been finding some solace in the exploits of their cricketers had been stunned into total silence. With the ball reverse-swinging and Bollinger bowling with immaculate discipline, he restricted Stuart Broad to four dot balls in a row before swinging the last ball of his spell, a perfect yorker, through his defences to complete figures for 3 for 20 in 10 overs. Bresnan, however, kept his cool even as the asking rate dipped to a run a ball, and picked the right deliveries – a hint of width from Harris and Hopes respectively – to mow the winning boundaries through the off side.
Their fumbling finale notwithstanding, it was another impressive effort from England, for whom victory over Australia can never be taken lightly. After winning the toss and bucking convention by bowling first on a baking hot day, the key aspect of the triumph was the speed with which they adjusted their gameplan in the field. With the exception of James Anderson, who wrapped up the tail for figures of 3 for 22, England’s seamers had an off-day, with Bresnan proving especially hittable on a pacy surface. But the slow-bowling contingent was on hand to bail the side out. Swann, Yardy and the rarely-used Paul Collingwood produced combined figures of 6 for 103 in 25 overs, and it was that intervention that crushed Australia’s bid for momentum in the middle part of their innings.

Paine, who made 44 from 48 balls, had kickstarted Australia’s innings with four fours in six balls off Bresnan, while Luke Wright’s solitary over was dispatched for 14 by Watson, including a mown six over midwicket and a firm clip through the leg-side. But Yardy’s introduction in the 14th over paid dividends from his third delivery, as Paine was beaten by the angle and nailed plumb in front of middle stump. Then, two balls after the drinks break, Ricky Ponting was suckered by a ripping delivery from Swann that turned way down the leg-side and was expertly gathered by Craig Kieswetter, who whipped off the bails to send Australia’s captain on his way for 3 from 18 balls.

Watson duly completed his second half-century in consecutive innings, but not for the first time in his career, he was unable to convert his start. On 61 from 76 balls, he attempted a sweep at Swann but failed to take his extra bounce into account, and Strauss at square leg clung onto a dollied top-edge. The same combination then accounted for Cameron White eight overs later – but this time it required a sharp piece of work from Strauss who stooped low to his left to snaffle a full-blooded sweep.

The off-colour Michael Clarke nibbled along to 33 from 54 balls before hoisting Swann to wide mid-off, before Collingwood’s offcutters bowled Hussey, via a faint inside-edge, for a run-a-ball 21. At 183 for 6, Strauss then returned to his seamers to apply the coup de grace: James Hopes wafted a slow bouncer from Anderson onto his stumps for 7, before Ryan Harris spliced an attempted pull off Broad to Strauss at midwicket, who completed his third catch of the innings. Steven Smith was then pinned lbw on the back heel by Anderson for 20, who wrapped up excellent figures of 3 for 22 in eight overs by yorking Bollinger in the same over.

Until the twist in the tale, the second half of the match belonged to Strauss, who boxed himself off from the cheers and groans from the football-watchers in the hospitality suites to produce the sort of innings which not only justifies his retention as England’s 50-overs captain but entirely quashes the debate about his role. He made 87 from 121 balls to break the back of the run-chase in the unflappable manner that he brings to all of his best performances, and while he was unable to see the innings to its conclusion, he wasn’t alone in that. If England were in danger of getting complacent about their current run of success, this was just the sort of scare to bring their one-day challenge back into full focus.

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