ENGLAND for once failed to complete a near-certain win and ended their hopes of an unbeaten summer.
Eoin Morgan’s team – normally the comeback specialists – had to give way to brilliant centuries from Aussie duo Alex Carey and Glenn Maxwell.
The pair came together at 73-5 with England apparently heading for a convincing win. But they produced a fantastic partnership of 212 and guided Australia to a three-wicket win.
It came after England themselves completed amazing turnarounds – thanks to batting blow-ups by the Aussies – in the previous ODI and the opening game of the T20 series.
So England finish life in the bio-secure bubble with four series wins, one draw and one loss in all formats.
And the thrilling final match was typical of a summer that has produced high-quality, intense cricket despite the lack of crowds and weird circumstances.
Fair play to Carey and Maxwell, they batted superbly under intense pressure. But England did have their chances – Carey on nine was caught off a no-ball from Jofra Archer and Maxwell was dropped by Jos Buttler.
Maxwell and Carey were both dismissed near the end but Mitchell Starc struck the first ball of the last over – entrusted to leg-spinner Adil Rashid – for six. Starc finished the job by sweeping Rashid for four with two balls left.
Starc began the match in sensational fashion by dismissing Jason Roy and Joe Root with his first two deliveries.
Jonny Bairstow stood helplessly at the other end but Bairstow’s response was superb – he scored 112 and helped propel England to 302-7.
It was the first time England have ever lost two wickets to the first two deliveries of a one-day international and only the fourth time for all countries. No other team has reached 300 after such a cataclysmic start.
Roy drove to point and Root was lbw to complete a disappointing season with the bat. Morgan survived the hat-trick and began re-building with Bairstow.
Morgan drove to mid-off and Buttler offered a catch to cover but Sam Billings, riding a wave of confidence after his century in the opening match, helped Bairstow put on 114 for the fifth wicket.
Bairstow reached his tenth ODI hundred with a magnificent pick-up for six over the short legside boundary off Pat Cummins. Next ball, he hammered Cummins down the ground for four.
Bairstow was eventually bowled by a Cummins slower ball but Chris Woakes made more valuable runs – 53 not out this time – which included an improvised guide for four to third man when he initially shaped to lap to fine leg.
Woakes had Aaron Finch plumb lbw and then burgled Marcus Stoinis’ wicket with a terrible ball down the legside that Stoinis somehow front-edged into mid-wicket’s hands.
Then, in Morgan’s latest piece of inspired captaincy, he brought on Joe Root, who promptly bowled David Warner with a jaffa and then had Mitch Marsh caught behind via bat and pad.
Root had taken two wickets for three runs in six balls with his occasional off-spin.
When Marnus Labuschagne was run out by Billings, Australia were 73-5 and apparently dead and buried.
But Carey and Maxwell produced their superb stand. Carey was calmness and Maxwell restrained his desire to whack every ball for six just enough.
But he still cleared the short boundary regular and reached his century with his seventh six.
Aussie run machine Steve Smith was again left out after feeling “groggy” while batting in practice on Tuesday.
Smith was struck on the head in the nets last Thursday and, although he has passed two concussion tests, was not considered well enough to play.
After England lost a home one-day series for the first time in five years, captain Morgan said: “Scoring more than 300 after losing two wickets to the first two balls was a huge positive but Australia were too good for us.
“Playing a full set of fixtures has been great and has provided a blueprint for other countries. We’ve mapped out exactly how to get cricket back on.
"We’ve had no positive Covid tests and teams around the world will look at how the ECB have done it.”
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