Sport, bless its cotton socks, occasionally fails in its mission. The final international match of the 2015 season was supposed to be a riveting climax to a wonderful summer in which the England team have not only been reinvented but also regained the Ashes. The first probably led to the second.
If they did not defeat Australia to win the one-day series in the fifth and deciding match, they would at least provide us with a memorable spectacle. Only Jeremy Corbyn has garnered more new supporters in the past four months and the newborn England would entrance them one last time.
Alas, this fond desire went awry quickly – the fourth ball of the match – and never regained its intended course. England were all out in 33 overs for 138, their lowest limited-overs total of the season, and Australia won by eight wickets in 24.2 overs.
It was an unfortunate way for it all to end, but then perhaps too much was expected after all the marvels that went before. For a few awful moments, it seemed as if it might be worse, much, much worse.
With England already in the mire at 22 for 3, choosing to bat after what was adjudged “a good toss to win”, their captain, Eoin Morgan, was struck on the side of his helmet by a bouncer from Mitchell Starc. It was a rapid ball, timed above 90mph, and it was accurate, and as Morgan shaped to face it he seemed frozen in the moment.
Starc was the only man on the field who had appeared in the match last November in which Phillip Hughes was killed after being hit by a bumper. It was not difficult to imagine what might be running through Starc’s mind as he rushed up the pitch to Morgan, his face fraught with concern, as were the faces of all his colleagues.
Morgan was groggy but soon, thankfully, he stood up and was administered to by England’s team doctor and physiotherapist. After a few minutes he walked, and not long after that it was announced he was being treated for concussion and withdrawing from the match.
This immense relief did not persuade England to play any better. There was a series of limp dismissals, as if the hard work of their season had already been done.
It began unfortunately. Having glanced the first ball for four, Jason Roy was given out lbw to the second but he rightly reviewed it because replays showed there was an inside edge before it went on to his pad.
Two balls later Roy was hit on the pad again by a swinging low full toss and after consulting his partner, Alex Hales, mysteriously chose not to refer it, although it was quickly confirmed what seemed apparent, that it was missing leg stump by several inches.
Nothing went right for England afterwards and they ensured that everything went wrong. Hales ended a hesitant stay with a loose drive to point, James Taylor pushed at a ball outside off.
After Morgan’s departure there was a brief flurry from Ben Stokes, the only man to appear in all 19 of England’s home internationals in 2015, and Jonny Bairstow but it was them or nothing. Nothing came out on top.
Bairstow was beaten by a full-length ball from Mitchell Marsh, the unsung, though official, man of the series, Moeen Ali played a casual waft at a ball going across him.
Although Stokes made his highest score of the series and his third-highest in 29 ODI innings, and played some corking leg-side shots, he too was lbw in full stride.
It was left to Adil Rashid to ensure England did not capitulate entirely but they still ended some 200 short of what they might have estimated. If Australia started diffidently they finished in a blaze.
Joe Burns hung out his bat to David Willey, Steve Smith, beginning to find that captaincy can make runs scoring harder, drove at Mark Wood and was caught behind. That was 31 for 2 and encouraged false optimism of one final twist.
This was dismissed curtly by Aaron Finch and George Bailey who put on 109 from 93 balls, Finch making 70 from 64. They cantered rather than galloped.
It was the 11th international of the summer between these sides and the 40th since May 2013. England are 23-14 down overall in that period but have edged this summer 6-5, which shows both how far they have come and how far they have to go. Crucially they won the Ashes.
With any luck – though the World Twenty20 next March may decree otherwise – they will not meet again until the late autumn of 2017 in the next Ashes series. It is time for a break from each other, but of course it cannot come soon enough.
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