England will seal this five-match series if they beat Australia at Trent Bridge on Tuesday afternoon as they won the second international on a windswept day by 38 runs.
Neither at the Oval nor in Cardiff has Australia’s batting been good enough to counter England’s varied attack, except for Shaun Marsh who scored a superlative 131 off 116 balls. Marsh exploited the inability of England’s pace bowlers to bowl the slower balls and cutters dictated by the pitch until Liam Plunkett came to the rescue with his off-cutter.
If they are set to lose this one-day battle however, Australia are becoming ever better equipped to win the war which will be the Ashes series next summer. Not always does the better pace attack win the Ashes in England as is invariably the case in Australia. Still, England will find it alarming that the Australians keep churning out pace bowlers quicker than the fastest of their own.
Having unveiled Billy Stanlake in the first international, he was replaced owing to a injury by another fine prospect in Jhye Richardson, who touched 90 mph and is only 21. This is a proper bowler to be added to the Australian arsenal of Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood, Pat Cummins and Stanlake.
So Australia’s pace bowling, if raw, is still sharp: it is their batting which smacks of an “A” team. This is not solely due to the bans on David Warner and Steve Smith. Australia have lost 13 and won two of their last 15 internationals spread over the last two calendar years, suggesting their ODI batting has been more affected than their Test batting by the growth of T20. Shaun Marsh, their one senior Test batsman, alone found the right tempo in his lone hand, his fourth ODI century.
England’s batting, having been slack at the Oval, tightened up admirably to produce a near-perfect display, led by Jason Roy with his fifth ODI century. Australia have never chased down so many as 342, and the burden of geography was added to that of history when the pitch became more uneven as the game progressed.
Roy had not reached 50 since setting the record for an England ODI innings with his 180 at the start of last January’s series in Australia. The national record had its downside however: Roy seemed to think he could blaze away every time and the runs would come, but they did not – not in quantities worthy of his talent.
Back at the drawing-board Roy has come up with a method against the left-arm spinner that involves a lot less bottom hand and hitting across the line. Here he off-drove Ashton Agar and was content with singles to rotate the strike. His whole innings radiated a new-found maturity, a control that Roy had never demonstrated before, and a suggestion of restrained power that was wonderful for England’s supporters to watch a year before the World Cup – and Roy has not become too purist in that he could still let his bottom hand take over to club a couple of sixes.
Roy had one advantage in that it was only in the latter stages of England’s innings, after he had been dismissed, that Australia’s pace bowlers realised slower balls and cutters were the way to go as the ball began to grip. Initially the surface was slightly damp and refreshed by the drizzle that fell for much of the morning, causing two rain-breaks, so that the ball skidded on for Roy and Jonny Bairstow.
It was a measure of how smooth a machine England’s batting has become that they recorded a 50 partnership for every one of their first five wickets – the first time it had been done in ODIs – even though their captain was absent. After a back spasm Eoin Morgan handed over to Jos Buttler so belatedly that the toss was made only 20 minutes before the start; Morgan was replaced by Sam Billings, who shared a 50 stand with Buttler but yet again did not fully deliver.
Buttler, leading England for the fourth time, batted with a responsibility that had gone missing at the Oval and finished with his highest score as captain. He was patient when Agar and D’Arcy Short, with their left-arm spinners, put the brake on England up to the 40th over then promptly took Jhye Richardson for 16 off three balls including two ramps for six in succession downwind.
The tourists demoted Aaron Finch to no avail and began with three lefthanders, including Short on his ODI debut, which allowed England to get both of their off-spinners on early and Joe Root to ease the pressure on the five specialist bowlers.
Since the last World Cup Australia average 26.17 against wrist-spin in ODIs. They lose a wicket every 30 balls – that’s only the 10th best in the world.
Prices for this match are England 4/7 and Australia 8/5. At the prices, accepting England are the better one day team, on a pitch that should take less spin Australia at 8/5 with Bet365 is a sporting bet.