Mitchell Starc knocked off the top and tail either side of Adam Zampa twirling through the middle, bowling out England 72 runs short of Australia’s 280 for eight at the Sydney Cricket Ground on Saturday night.
James Vince and Sam Billings led a recovery from 34 for three and eventually got back in the hunt with an excellent partnership worth 132, needing a further 124 at less than a run a ball. But when Vince fell for 60 and Billings for 71, the chase fell away in a sequence of seven for 52, handing Australia the one-day international series 2-0.
It was another good day for bowlers after a T20 World Cup that kept a competitive balance between bat and ball. The SCG surface offered plenty and with regular captains Jos Buttler and Pat Cummins rested, the teams were led by England all-rounder Moeen Ali and Australian quick Josh Hazlewood. It was Starc, though, who enjoyed his outing most of all.
During the recent World Cup, Starc was moved from his long-held role opening the bowling, with Australia’s management talking him up as a middle-overs enforcer before dropping him for a match against Afghanistan that Australia needed to win by a mile.
With the new ball restored to him in these ODIs, Starc resumed taking wickets with it. Jason Roy was surprised by bounce at his hip, gloving behind to Alex Carey, before Dawid Malan got the full swinging ball that Roy had expected, cannoning off his pads and into his stumps. Starc had a double-wicket maiden.
Hazlewood backed him up, cutting the ball viciously in an engaging battle with Phil Salt, who carved 23 off 16 before backing away and losing his stumps. At three down in the sixth over, Vince responded with a gem of an innings, seeing off good balls while counterattacking with style, the highlight a lofted six over cover from Ashton Agar.
Billings was patchy in comparison, surviving a close lbw review from Zampa, but survived until he grew in fluency, including consecutive sixes from Agar in the 22nd over. The batters reached 50 within six balls of one another. Hazlewood changed the course, the stand-in captain jagging a ball back to hit Vince in front.
His opposing captain took on Zampa, Moeen smashing four and six from his first two balls of spin, but the leg-spinner was too good, zipping a faster delivery through Moeen’s back-foot defence. Zampa’s next over showed his range, drifting and dipping beneath the bat of the advancing Billings, hitting the stumps again by dramatically different means. Four balls later, air time and a googly made Sam Curran slice his big hit to long-off. It was 169 for seven, and all but over.
Starc returned to hit the stumps of Chris Woakes and David Willey before Zampa trapped Liam Dawson, the bowlers finishing with four wickets each. Only Wasim Akram, Brett Lee, Muttiah Muralitharan and Wasim Akram have done that more often than Starc in one-day cricket, and he has played fewer than half as many matches as any of them.
For Australia, a good day with the ball was matched with the bat. David Warner and Travis Head made another fast start for 33 before both holed out for under 20, but Steve Smith and Marnus Labuschagne built a measured partnership of 101, gauging the difficulty of the pitch and the quality of the bowling as Woakes found reverse swing, Willey used variations, and Rashid teased through the air.
Rashid extracted both, but not before Labuschagne had reached 58 and Smith went on to 94, looking far more composed than in recent summers with his new stillness at the crease. Mitchell Marsh also found that hitting out on this Sydney surface was difficult, striking two sixes but mostly working the ball into gaps, adapting his game to build an even 50 from 59.
Agar provided some late momentum, mostly through hard running rather than boundary striking, and 280 proved a very good score in the conditions. The result will probably draw a collective shrug from a changing England team: Moeen, Curran, Woakes, and Rashid were the inclusions after the first matc, with Buttler, Chris Jordan, Olly Stone and Luke Wood dropping out.
For Australia, Warner, Smith and Alex Carey all chipped in when it came to bowling changes and field placements. Still, if a trivia question in 20 years asks about Australian one-day captains, and Josh Hazlewood is the surprise answer, at least he will know that he came away from it with a win.