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Opinion

A little bit of resilience goes a long way for Justin Langer's men

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17th September, 2020
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It was one of those wins. The kind of match you look back on years later and wonder how on earth it happened. I’m still trying to fully work it out a few hours after the final ball.

The simple answer, of course, is that Glenn Maxwell and Alex Carey both produced match-winning, career-defining innings before Mitchell Starc slogged his way to the target in the final over.

Maxwell played the kind of knock Australian fans have been yearning for years, only better. Strange as it is to say about 108 runs which came off 90 balls, there was patience mixed in with his trademark belligerence (his strike rate of 120 last night was actually slightly lower than his career mark of 123).

Carey showed the composure – at least after being gifted a life by a massive Jofra Archer no-ball – that was on display in last year’s World Cup, when he was the only member of the Australian middle order to offer anything approaching consistency.

A slightly more in-depth answer would be they all were allowed to, to some extent, by some rare moments of sub-par captaincy from Eoin Morgan.

His use of Adil Rashid, in particular, was bemusing. He dismissed Carey in the first two ODIs – and took the wicket which started the Game 2 collapse – yet went un-bowled until the second half of Australia’s innings, by which time Carey and Maxwell were both set.

The gamble to bring him back late on paid off in the form of Maxwell’s wicket, but throwing him the ball for the final over against Mitchell Starc did anything but.

The big paceman belting spinners anywhere between long-on and square-leg is a familiar sight to anyone who’s seen Starc bat, so it wasn’t particularly surprising to see a repeat performance against Rashid. Opting for the leggie when the miserly (and fast) Mark Wood had an over left is a decision Morgan will surely rue.

Despite Maxwell and Carey’s magnificent, despite a few critical captaincy missteps, there has to be something said about the mindset of this Australian team.

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Glenn Maxwell of Australia hits out

(Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images for ECB)

To be able to come back from a catastrophic batting collapse in Game 2, and indeed another one on the way to victory in Game 3, and notch a series win is impressive in no small way.

And that’s becoming a bit of a habit for the side under Justin Langer’s stewardship.

Last year’s remarkable ODI series win in India was the first real example of that. Down 2-0 and needing to win the remaining three matches, first Usman Khawaja and Aaron Finch set up a Game 3 win, then in Game 4 Peter Handscomb and Ashton Turner chased down a 350-plus total they had no right to reach – a game eerily reminiscent of this morning’s. Game 5 and the series duly followed.

Switch formats and Australia were at it again, somehow rebounding from that incomprehensible, demoralising loss to England Ben Stokes at Headingley to take a tight, Ashes-retaining win in Manchester. That they were able to start the Ashes series so well despite being hammered by the hosts in the World Cup semi-final also speaks to their resilience.

Even the T20 series earlier this tour showed Australia the team are far less prone to collapse than Australia the batting order. Claiming the third match and the accompanying no.1 twenty20 ranking after being outclassed in the first two took something, well, not special, but impressive nonetheless.

Issues remain, clearly. No one’s quite sure yet about what the best bowling attack is, and the batting order has all the structural integrity of a newly built apartment: looks flash, but has a worrying tendency to fall over.

In every single match this tour, there’s been a collapse of some kind. Six for 50, three for 30, and four for 30 in the T20s. Maybe you could provide a pass for the first ODI, although losing three for 40-odd in about nine overs wasn’t ideal, but there were no such exceptions in the last two matches: eight for 63 on Sunday, five for 73 this morning.

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And yet it was Aaron Finch’s side crowned series winners, in the reigning World Cup champions’ back yard no less.

Adam Zampa of Australia celebrates a wicket

(Photo by Gareth Copley/Getty Images for ECB)

They did it without Steve Smith, whose presence would have solidified a top order which was uncharacteristically shaky.

They did it without any significant match practice, while England came into the matchup on the back of series in various formats against the West Indies, Ireland and Pakistan.

Maxwell had an excellent series, top-scoring in both the victories and bowling well to remove any doubts about whether he’s in Australia’s best short-form XI. Carey, too, banished any question marks hovering over his place in the side.

A special mention must also go Adam Zampa’s way. The T20s were all about Rashid, but the New South Welshman comprehensively outbowled his counterpart in the 50-over matches, finishing with a series-best ten wickets at 14.2.

These weren’t cheap, tail-end scalps either. They were the in-form Morgan in all three matches, Sam Billings and Jos Buttler in two, as well as Joe Root and Jonny Bairstow. The only bowler he dismissed was Chris Woakes, himself a more-than-handy contributor with the bat.

After Australia has searched oh so long for a consistent white-ball spinner, Zampa has well and truly demanded his selection for series to come.

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Couple his form with Smith’s return, a middle order starting to click, and a team mentality which has them entirely capable of replying to adversity, and there’s plenty to like about this Australian side.