All-round England defy Finch ton, take 2-0 series lead

England beat West Indies by 124 runs in 3rd ODI
England beat West Indies by 124 runs in 3rd ODI

An increasingly confident England survived several batting wobbles to once again prove their mastery at chasing in a four-wicket victory over a struggling Australia at the Gabba on Friday (January 19).

The tourists’ chase of 271 was slightly more difficult than their canter in game one but they still achieved victory with 34 balls to spare to grab a stranglehold over the five-match One-Day International (ODI) series.

Brilliant quick Mitchell Starc (4 for 59) almost single-handedly revived a slumping Australia with a menacing late burst, but a composed Joe Root (46 not out) and an adventurous Chris Woakes (39 not out from 27 balls) guided England to a deserved triumph and within sight of a consolation series victory after their Ashes calamity.

A top-heavy Australian team loaded up on batting but to no avail in a move which exacerbated their thin bowling sans front-line spin. In a major surprise, incumbent spinner Adam Zampa was axed even though star Test offspinner Nathan Lyon remains in the ODI wilderness.

Desperate to get back into a series that is fast slipping away, Australia relied heavily on spearhead Starc who promptly delivered in the first over of England’s chase. The left-armer – the only Ashes frontline bowler in the team – claimed the big scalp of first ODI record-breaker Jason Roy (2) but he was promptly hit for a trio of boundaries in his third over as England’s breakneck batting was a notable contrast to Australia’s dawdling effort earlier.

Belligerent batsmen Alex Hales and Jonny Bairstow batted briskly but with minimal risk as they nonchalantly notched their half-centuries with sixes. Against a makeshift Australian bowling attack – a shadow of the vaunted blue-chip Ashes arsenal – an aggressive Bairstow and Hales easily notched a century stand as another cakewalk chase loomed for the confident visitors.

Desperately searching for inspiration, Australian turned to debutant speedster Jhye Richardson who got through the defences of Hales (57) to claim a memorable first ODI wicket and followed up with the scalp of Bairstow (60 from 56) as the match took an unexpected turn with England delicately poised at 129-3 in the 22nd over.

A thrilling finish suddenly loomed when Starc bowled captain Eoin Morgan (21) but a valuable half-century partnership between Jos Buttler (42 from 32 balls) and Root restored England’s control. Just when the game appeared over with England cruising at 225 for 6, Starc dismissed Buttler and Moeen Ali in his final over to give Australia a sniff of a miraculous comeback victory but, eventually, the tourists finished on top.

In hot and humid Brisbane conditions, Australian captain Steve Smith won the toss and elected to bat on a bouncy but perfect batting strip – a notable contrast to the Gabba’s eyebrow raising slow Test pitch. Smith’s decision was conventional but one his counterpart wouldn’t have minded due to England’s proclivity for chasing.

In almost a rerun of the series opener, Australia’s innings was dominated by another brilliant Aaron Finch century, his 10th of his career, but lacked the expected pyrotechnics from a batting order that has yet to click in the series despite posting reasonable totals. The hard-hitting Finch was the fulcrum of a stuttering Australian top-order, which was unable to make the most of the sublime batting conditions. Australia batted consistently but could not muster the necessary punches to conjure a more sizeable score.

The 270 for 9 total was highly disappointing after Australia made a swift start through Finch and dynamic opener David Warner. Continuing on from his heroics in game one, Finch smashed a couple of Mark Wood bouncers to the boundary in the third over to underline his imperious form.

After failing in game one, a determined Warner (35) started well and looked set to deliver trademark fireworks before meekly poking a Moeen delivery to slip, ending the promising opening partnership of 68.

Finch and Smith attempted to unsettle canny legspinner Adil Rashid from the get go with both batsmen hitting sixes but England reeled back the run-rate through their eclectic spinners – further highlighting Australia’s baffling decision to not select a frontline spinner. Moeen, who mightily struggled during the Ashes, was probing but Root proved to be an unlikely wicket taker with his handy off-spin.

In an inspired bowling change from Morgan, the part-timer trapped Smith (18) with his fourth ball in a decision upheld on review. Root shortly after claimed struggling No.4 Travis Head (7) caught-and-bowled as Australia was tangled by the England Test skipper’s nagging accuracy.

In a deja vu from the first ODI – and continuing a worrying recent bane – Australia was bogged down in the middle overs as the run rate slowed. No.5 Mitchell Marsh survived a tight run out review before combining with Finch in similar fashion to their century stand in Melbourne. It was an important stabalising partnership and they threatened to take control but the pair were unable to shift gears against disciplined England bowling.

Marsh (36) looked the goods but was stumped off Rashid in a bid to put the foot down. Again, eerily similar to Melbourne, Finch (106) fell shortly after Marsh’s dismissal as Australia slumped to an under par total.

Debutant Alex Carey, who started the decade an Australian Rules football player, showcased his hot Big Bash League form with an energetic late burst to ensure Australia finished with a competitive albeit underwhelming total that felt about 30 runs below par. Carey, who replaced ill wicketkeeper Tim Paine, made an eye-catching 24-ball 27 but his innings ended through a brilliant run-out from Woakes, who kicked the ball in a football-style tap onto the stumps in his follow through.

Cameron White, playing his first ODI since 2015, was sluggish at the death in his long-awaited return to punctuate another inadequate batting performance from the hosts, who are on the brink of their first home series defeat in the 50-over format since 2010.

The pivotal game three will be at the SCG on Sunday (January 21).