Adelaide: England’s hopes of an ODI whitewash came crashing down as Australia took the fourth ODI by three wickets with 78 balls to spare.
The damage was done up top when, having been put in to bat, the tourists were in complete disarray at eight for five — the third lowest score that the first five batsmen have been lost for in the history of the format.
In 38 balls of carnage, Jason Roy, Jonny Bairstow, Joe Root and Jos Buttler failed to score a run in 20 deliveries between them, while Alex Hales managed just three. A top six that have taken English ODI cricket to great heights had plumbed new depths.
The Australia Day celebrations were capped off by Travis Head’s return to form, albeit cruelly falling short of a second ODI hundred with 96, as the hosts chased their target of 197 for a first win of the series. This is only their second win since last Australia Day’s success against Pakistan.
Showers throughout the morning brought a muggy atmosphere and added a bit of spice to a usually note-perfect drop-in pitch. Truly, these were very English conditions. Steve Smith had no qualms in giving his bowlers first go upon winning the toss.
Josh Hazlewood and Pat Cummins were your resident duck hunters: Hazlewood having Roy caught at point off a skewed drive with the second ball of the innings, before Cummins nabbed Hales for the third time across 14-balls in ODIs, with one that zipped in off the straight to knock off stump. Hazlewood then had Bairstow caught behind — only the fourth time both openers have been dismissed in an ODI without scoring.
A tame hook to backward square leg from Root gave Cummins a second before Hazlewood produced the ball of the match: leaving Buttler at the last moment to take his edge, caught behind. It momentarily gave him figures of three for five from 3.2 overs. Were it not for a 78 from Chris Woakes, this would have been a pasting.
That united skipper Eoin Morgan and Moeen Ali — two left-handers who, collectively, have only timed a handful of balls on this tour. Through sheer will and not much craft, there cobbled 53 between them. Ali found the middle, hitting the innings’ first and second boundary in the 15th over, but Morgan was taking more blows than he was dishing out.
A clothed hook eventually brought about his demise, as the first of two wickets to fall in Cummins’ comeback spell to give the 24-year-old career-best figures of four for 24. Both opening quicks were ably backed up by Andrew Tye, who took his first ODI wickets, finishing with three for 33.
Not for the first time in the last fortnight, Woakes took charge with the bat, hitting his second half-century of the series and one that took him past a thousand career runs. White-ball batting has been a part of the all-rounder’s game that has slipped due to the volume of red ball cricket he has played. Work with Graham Thorpe, ECB’s lead batting coach, has refreshed his ability to clear the ropes: five of his nine boundaries here were sixes. He now has 170 runs across the four matches so far, for only once out. Since the 2015 World Cup, the 28-year-old averages 46.46 with the bat. By way of comparison, Steve Smith averages 43.48 in the same period.
Were it not for Woakes’ work, supplemented further down the order by Tom Curran’s 35, this match would have been done well before the traditional Australia Day 21-gun salute. By the time those pounded the early evening air, Head, an Adelaide local, was past 50. He was dropped for the third ODI after two failures, but became the beneficiary of an injury to Aaron Finch, the series’ leading run-scorer. He seized his second-chance, hitting 15 fours to all but see his side home.
There were some crumbs of comfort for England. They kept David Warner in check again, for 13. They might have also found Smith’s kryptonite: dismissed for the fifth time in ODIs by leg-spinner Adil Rashid. Head aside, no other opposition batsmen succeeded.
But this was a result that reinforces trepidation in lauding this England side as one of the best around. When they’re good, they’re great. And when they’re bad, they’re eight for five.