A stunning capitulation from Australia has led to them throwing away the first T20 international against England at Southampton, falling two runs short in pursuit of 163.
They were in cruise control at 0/98 then again at 1/124 in the 15th over but then the wheels fell off, Marcus Stoinis eventually left 15 to win from the final over, managing only 12.
The middle-order collapse of 4/9 in 14 balls came from nowhere, with David Warner and Aaron Finch to that point laying the ideal foundation across the first 11 overs, Steve Smith picking up from where the captain left off when he was dismissed for 46 from 32 balls. But when the number three holed out for 18, it heralded a flurry of wickets and stopped the visitors in their tracks, striking just one boundary in the final six overs of the chase.
Glenn Maxwell, so important with the ball earlier in the evening, was caught at cover for one before David Warner – who was at his busy best for 58 from 47 balls – was bowled by Jofra Archer after the ball deflected off his pad when making room outside the off-stump. It was the same fate for Alex Carey when on one, sorted out for sheer pace by Mark Wood.
Ashton Agar, another spinner who contributed to the earlier squeeze on England, was run out by Jordon from the final delivery of the penultimate over, by which time the game control had well and truly slipped from Finch’s side. Stoinis, who finished on 23 not out from 18 balls, did hit Tom Curran over extra cover for six from the second ball of the last over, but four swings and misses either side of that delivery from the recalled right-hander meant that he had missed his chance. Four runs were needed from the final ball to tie the game or a six to win and neither looked likely.
Earlier, a disciplined performance with the ball, supported by an accomplished evening in the field fielding and some astute Aaron Finch captaincy, underpinned Australia keeping England to 162/7. Playing for the first time in the biosecure bubble, 175 days after their previous international outing, Jos Buttler got the hosts off to a flier, reaching 29 inside three overs, at one stage launching Agar back over his head and into the hotel where the players are staying.
But it would be the West Australian who had the last laugh when the England hitter caught at deep midwicket in the 8th over, making the score 2/64. He picked up a second wicket ten runs later, the dangerous trickster Tom Banton, who miscued a lofted drive over cover, taken safely by the captain running back with the flight. It was Finch in the game again, swinging the changes and turning the screws. With the pitch a fraction less pacy than expected, he brought Glenn Maxwell into the attack in the 12th over and it brought an immediate reward, the off-spinner landing the big fish of England skipper Eoin Morgan, who skied in the direction of Steve Smith running in from long-on.
When Moeen Ali became the Victorian’s second, top-edging a reverse sweep, the innings was limping 5/108. But Dawid Malan, watching the wickets fall having walked in after Pat Cummins dismissed Jonny Bairstow in the fourth over, kept his cool and found and cleared the boundary often enough to keep the show on the road. He passed 50 from 37 balls before pumping Adam Zampa for consecutive sixes. But another fine take from Smith, from the bowling of Kane Richardson in the penultimate over, removed the left-hander for 66.
In theory, 163 was never likely to be enough unless Australia lost early wickets – and they didn’t, getting through their power play unscathed with David Warner and Finch adding 55 – the latter bringing up his 2000th T20 international run in the process. That the left-hander’s 37-ball half-century only included four boundaries told the story – he was busy from the get-go, relentless between the wickets. Since he and Finch returned to the top of the list in this format last October, they’ve compiled 640 runs together in ten innings.
But the price they pay for losing their nerve is losing the match. Stoinis’ face said it all when walking from the field: this was a quite the botching. The three-game series continues on Sunday at the same Southampton venue before concluding on Tuesday. It will be followed by three one-day internationals in Manchester.