Eoin Morgan's gambler instincts engineer England's remarkable comebackby George Dobell, Senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo
In years to come, when we reflect on the great ODI finishes, this game may barely warrant a mention.
There was no World Cup on the line, after all. No breathless Super Over or final delivery run-out. The final margin of victory - 24 runs - might even convince those leafing through the pages of Wisden in 30 years' time, it wasn't that close.
But, in its own way, this was a slow-burning classic. And the result represents one of England's greatest comebacks in the format. For make no mistake, they were dead and buried in this match. At 144 for 2, Australia had two set batsmen at the crease - they had already put on 107 - and required just 88 more to win. With 19.2 overs remaining, victory looked to be a formality.
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As it was, Australia lost 8 for 63. Over the course of 108 balls, England's bowlers preyed on an ever-more testing surface and an ever-more nervous opposition. The result sets up a delicious finale to this remarkable men's international season on Wednesday. From the position in which we found ourselves in May, we have been incredibly fortunate to witness so much compelling cricket.
There were several stars for England. Jofra Archer, bowling with terrific pace and skill, claimed the Player of the Match award for his 3 for 34; all three wickets coming from Australia's top five. He's barely a year into his international career yet already the thought occurs that he may be developing into one of the best limited-overs bowlers England has ever had.
"With the white ball he hasn't had a bad day out yet. It is so rare," captain Eoin Morgan said. "Playing at the highest level, you maybe have one in four or five really good days; the rest you try and contribute when you can. But he's continuing to prove he's awesome to have in our group."
The award might equally have gone to Chris Woakes, for his 3 for 32, and quite the trio of wickets they were: Aaron Finch, Marnus Labuschagne and Glenn Maxwell. With Archer he combined to deliver the spell that changed the game.
Tom Curran, too, had a strong claim. He followed his vital innings of 37 by conceding just 28 from his 10 overs. And Sam Curran, who claimed three wickets from his final five overs all delivered in one spell at the death, should also be mentioned in dispatches. "Every time they come into the team there is a level of competitiveness that is more visual than any other player," Morgan said.
But most of all, there was Morgan. He top-scored for England, and at a time a player as proficient as Joe Root (39 from 73 balls) was making batting appear painful, Morgan (42 from 52) was able to hint at fluency, but his main contribution came in the field.
When all seemed hopeless, he was calmness personified. When Plan A had failed, he pursued Plan B with such conviction that his team were carried along in his wake. And while there must have been a moment when he feared defeat, you would never have known from his demeanour. It was revealing he reached for a poker analogy afterwards; you imagine there is no tell when you play with Morgan.
His biggest decision came midway through Australia's innings. With Mark Wood absent with a "niggle" in his ankle - a bit of a worry given his history - and Adil Rashid enduring an off-colour day, Morgan was limited to two strike bowlers: Archer and Woakes. And while England's usual template sees the pair of them brought back to bowl at the death, Morgan reasoned that, with the game slipping away fast, it was the time to go for broke.
"Jofra is obviously an ace and so is Woakesy," Morgan said. "You like to bowl them in the most important parts of the game and I felt at the time that was the most important part. The game was edging away from us."
So, Morgan brought back Archer in the 26th over and Woakes in the 27th. Perhaps, at the start of those spells, he hoped to keep an over or two from both of them in reserve. But as it was, with the ball starting to swing and seam and scuttle and rear, they threatened with every delivery.
The wickets wouldn't come, though. So into a seventh and eighth over they went. Gone were the plans for them to bowl at the death. Gone were the other options if this gamble didn't work.
Finally, Woakes beat the bat: Labuschagne caught in front by one that nipped back. But the umpire's finger stayed down.
"I threw everything at it. We needed to go all-in. But when the bowlers bowl like that - when the bowlers bat like that - it makes the captain look good"Eoin Morgan
Now, if there's one thing we have learned this summer, it is that Michael Gough is an outstanding umpire. Yet Morgan backed his wicketkeeper, Jos Buttler, and called for the review. It meant the end of Labuschagne. It was the moment the game changed.
"The protocol I use to is go to Jos before the bowler," Morgan said. "The bowler is very emotionally involved, but Jos sees everything from behind the stumps and he thought it hit in line. Given we hadn't created a chance in that period of really good bowling, if Jos was 50-50 I would have gambled anyway."
Archer followed up in the next over - his ninth - by bowling Mitchell Marsh with one that kept low and Morgan decided to go for the jugular. Both bowlers were going to complete their 10-over allocations in this spell. The game was going to be defined now.
Woakes struck again in his ninth over - the big wicket of Finch, bowled by a beauty which held its line to take off stump - and followed up with Maxwell, bowled in similar style, in his tenth. "Let's get the No. 7 now Woakesy," Morgan said a ball or two earlier, perhaps sowing a little seed of doubt and resentment in Maxwell's mind.
The manner of the dismissals was relevant, too. These weren't batsmen caught at long-on or fine-leg; they were quality players seeing their stumps hit when attempting defensive shots. "It sends quite a big message for the guys coming in about how difficult it is out there," Morgan said. "It was the bowlers getting the batsmen out. Australia didn't make too many mistakes"
Even then, the game could have gone either way. There were 15 overs left and Australia's requirement, while much tougher - 82 required with four wickets left - was not impossible.
With 11 overs left, Sam Curran had six to bowl. There was no contingency should he struggle; nowhere else to turn. But within three balls of his return, two more wickets had been claimed and the game was all but won. The comeback was complete.
Australia looked uncharacteristically self-conscious with the finish in sight. It would be simplistic and disrespectful to both sides to label them as chokers; this pitch was tricky and England really do deserve a bit more credit than that. But there might also be a grain of truth in it. It's only 10 days since they snatched a similarly unlikely defeat from the jaws of victory in the first T20I.
As much as it says about Australia, though, it perhaps says more about England. They've had some tight chases over the last few years and they've fought back from some apparently hopeless positions. But they've nearly always done it with the bat.
Morgan was modest afterwards and credited the bowlers. "I threw everything at it. We needed to go all-in. But when the bowlers bowl like that - when the bowlers bat like that - it makes the captain look good. The bowlers made us look good today."
But Morgan has to take some credit for instilling such belief in those bowlers. As Archer said, "he gives us the freedom to bowl whatever we want. He very seldom tells you 'no'."
Not for the first time, the thought occurred that Morgan appears to get more out of Archer than Root. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say England appear to get more out of him with a white ball than the red. For it might be that it's the format, the more neatly defined role and the guarantees of the overs required, which play to Archer's strengths.
Equally, it might be that the limitation on the number of short balls he is able to bowl helps. Archer's bouncer is exceptionally good. It's hard to imagine an England bowler has ever hit batsmen on the helmet so regularly. But it's even better when it's used sparingly. There's no batsman in the world unaware that it could be coming. Better, surely, to punish their reluctance to come forward with more full deliveries.
Either way, it's notable there are more smiles from Archer when Morgan is around. There was a telling moment here: with the match at its most tense, the ball was played between Morgan, at short leg it might be noted, and Archer in his follow through. Morgan was on the brink of picking it up when Archer, showing some deft footballing skills, side-footed it past him. Both men burst into laughter. England, under Morgan, are focused certainly but they're relaxed, too. It appears to be a winning combination.
"That result will not only give the bowlers confidence to execute in that situation again but belief they can win no matter the situation of the game," Morgan said. "It's very satisfying."