England’s bowlers turned a hopeless position into a match-winning, series-levelling thriller in the second one-day international against Australia, defeating their rivals by 24 runs in a barely believable comeback.
There were times in both innings when Eoin Morgan’s side looked dead and buried at Emirates Old Trafford – reduced to 149 for eight in the first innings, then seemingly batted out of contention by a century stand between Aaron Finch and Marnus Labuschagne.
But on both occasions they refused to lie down and accept defeat. Tom Curran and Adil Rashid instigated the fightback, sharing a 76-run stand for the ninth wicket to turn a potentially dismal score into a more presentable 231 for nine.
That was still well within Australia’s grasp, not least when Finch (73) saw his side to a serene position of 144 for two. But with Morgan marshalling his bowling changes masterfully, Chris Woakes and Jofra Archer flipped the game on its head with a spell of four wickets for three runs.
Sam Curran, recalled in place of the unfit Mark Wood, stepped into an unfamiliar role at the death with aplomb as he scooped up three lower-order wickets amid a rush of nerves, with Rashid wrapping up the chase for 207 when Alex Carey was stumped with eight balls left.
Australia had been on the verge of inflicting England’s first home series defeat in five years but now face a winner-takes-all finale on Wednesday. When they began the pursuit they did so as healthy favourites, a tag which offered little of use once Archer warmed to his task with a fresh, hard Kookaburra in hand.
He sent down a five-over spell of sustained hostility, routinely clearing 90mph and taking a pair of important scalps. David Warner succumbed to Archer for the fourth time in as many innings on tour, cramped for room by pace and a smart angle to fall for six, before Marcus Stoinis was panicked by a monstrous, rearing delivery that looped into Jos Buttler’s gloves.
Finch, who settled well despite being struck flush on the helmet by Archer, found a calm companion in Labuschagne and the pair proceeded to put on 107 with apparent ease.
For a long period they were in complete control, not least when they tamed Rashid’s spin. He was withdrawn after shipping 27 from three overs, faring only marginally better after a change of ends. After 30 overs the two set batsmen needed only 89 from 120 balls – a trifling equation by most standards.
But that is when Morgan’s gamble to fall back on Woakes and Archer took effect. In the space of 21 deliveries they shifted the entire tenor of the match to take the score from 144 for two to 147 for six.
Woakes was punishingly accurate, lining up Labuschagne lbw for 48 to open the door, before rearranging the stumps of both Finch and Glenn Maxwell.
Finch had been batting for an age, Maxwell for just a few moments, and Woakes left both swinging and missing as he hit the woodwork. Archer cranked up the pressure and grabbed a third of his own, form man Mitch Marsh dragging down his stumps.
With both men bowled out earlier than intended, for combined figures of six for 66, Australia still had a route to victory but it took a desperate detour when Sam Curran took two in two balls. Cummins got his angles horribly wrong as he played on and Starc wafted behind for a golden duck as the left-armer also neutralised Adam Zampa.
Carey represented his side’s last hope but the spiralling rate was too much and was last man out charging Rashid.
The Yorkshireman had already helped drag England back from the brink with the bat, performing a fine repair job alongside Tom Curran.
The day began with Jonny Bairstow taking a seven-ball duck, swishing and nicking as Mitchell Starc slanted one across him. At the other end Joe Root endured a torrid start, hemmed in expertly and eventually resorting to a scrambled tip-and-run. It proved a dreadful decision, Stoinis hurling down the stumps to leave Jason Roy with no chance of making his ground.
As he headed for the pavilion 21 of England’s 29 runs went with him, leaving Root with plenty to make up for. But his troubles were only beginning, scraping just three runs from his first 28 balls as his timing evaporated. On a couple of occasions he threatened to get started but he ended unfulfilled with 39 off 74 balls, nicking Zampa’s leg-break.
Zampa went on to claim three for 36, ending Morgan’s attempts at an anchoring knock with an lbw on 42 and bowling Sam Billings for eight.
With Buttler bowled cheaply by Cummins, England stumbled to 149 for eight before Tom Curran and Rashid pulled a joyous stand out of nowhere.
Australia’s intensity dipped as the pair added eight boundaries and provided what became a winning platform, albeit in highly unusual circumstances.