It might just be a World Cup warm-up, but England today secured an away win in the Twenty20 series with their second straight win over Australia to give them heartening for the bigger fights to come.
First, in his 50th T20 cap, Dawid Malan poked fun at England’s decision to put him seventh in their batting order in their first win in Perth by anchoring his 178-for-seven score with 82 from 49 here in Canberra.
Then Sam Curran emphasized his increasing importance to England’s T20 side with three crucial wickets and kept his head by conceding 13 runs in the final when full-strength Australia needed 22 again.
It was also a day of ups and downs for Ben Stokes, who first failed again with the racquet, then took the new ball and ended up with one for 10 and put down one of the most incredible field plays you will ever see when England are out . has beaten, overtaken and knocked out the reigning T20 world champions.
That means Friday’s last game of that three-game series is theoretically a dead rubber, but England would love nothing more than to whitewash Australia in an official series and enter the World Cup after beating the favorites on home soil has humiliated.
It was another impressive display from England but there will be concerns over Stokes’ form with the racquet. They’re determined to get him as high up the rankings here as possible to try to get the best out of him in T20 cricket, but he’s looked anything but a modern short-form hitter so far.
In the first game in Perth, Stokes was promoted to three over Malan for his reportedly superior batting ability, but he scraped around nine balls from nine.
Now, at his projected new four-stokes regular position, he looked again like a man who had not played a T20 international in 18 months prior to this trip and was bowled trying to sweep Adam Zampa after winning just seven of had made eleven balls.
It’s far too early to write off such an important player and England won’t even think of letting him go. But of course the Test captain needs to find form and pace, ideally in the final game of this series here at the Manuka Oval on Friday or in the final warm-up game against Pakistan in Brisbane next Tuesday. If not, when Liam Livingstone returns from injury and hopes to play against Pakistan, England could just be in for a tricky dilemma.
Stokes’ sacking was typical of an English upper class who didn’t perform as convincingly in Canberra as they did in Perth, not least as Australia brought back their big guns and potentially fielded their first pick at the World Cup.
Jos Buttler was pardoned thanks to a flipped pound on the fifth point when Pat Cummins’ delivery, which hit his pads, proved to be swaying too much.
He then pulled Josh Hazlewood to 12 on the square leg through the hands of Mitch Marsh – one of Australia’s four missed chances – but couldn’t capitalize on his luck and was caught off a top edge by Adam Zampa, who ran around, slipped and dived in front of himself to make the catch.
Perth Player of the Match Alex Hales was another batsman who failed to repeat his early exploits and when Harry Brook, who has a poor record in Australia in contrast to his golden start to his career elsewhere, joined Stokes in the dressing room England were in trouble at 54 to four.
The recovery was led by Malan, first in a 92 partnership with Moeen Ali and then tail as he hit 82 of 49 balls with four sixes before falling in the final over.
It was a satisfying inning for the perpetually underrated Malan, who had suffered the humiliation of dropping to seven in the first match, with even bowling all-rounders having a better chance of clearing the ropes.
He then lost his full central contract on Tuesday and was only handed an incremental deal, which could hurt the confidence of a batsman who has to prove himself so often.
Fortunately for England, he proved it again in style here today before Chris Jordan, returning from a broken finger, ended the innings with panache by hitting Stoinis’ final delivery for a monster six.
Buttler showed his confidence in Stokes by throwing him the new ball, but it was David Willey who broke through to sack Aaron Finch and Reece Topley quickly sent back David Warner, who had previously suffered a nasty blow to the head had missed chances when trying to take one of the Australians.
When Curran, who made a strong case for England’s side in his first World Cup match against Afghanistan on October 22, made the double breakthrough by sacking the out-of-form Glenn Maxwell and Marcus Stoinis, it was England’s turn Top.
Mitchell Marsh looked like he could level the series for Australia, especially after surviving that Stokes exceptional field game. The England Test skipper started at the long off-boundary, catching Marsh diving with his left hand but realizing he was going to fall over the rope and throwing the ball back. It only saved four runs instead of resulting in a layoff, with Marsh driving two runs, but it was an amazing feat.
And it didn’t spare Marsh for long as it was Stokes who put an end to his innings when he was caught by a diving Curran at the square leg boundary and Australia were just too busy after Curran took the key wicket of TimDavid.