These are the five things I took out of Australia’s white-ball tour of England.
1. Aussies shake choker tag before it could stick
After losing two games from seemingly unlosable positions prior to the ODI series decider, the narrative was quickly shifting that Australia’s cricketers had become chokers in the big moments.
The Aussies, of course, insisted this wasn’t true. They claimed that rather than suffering from nerves, they were mostly undone by wearing pitches in Southampton and Manchester after six months off. Either way, England’s ability to come back form the dead was beginning to grate.
However any questions of mental fragility were quickly snuffed out when Aaron Finch’s side pulled off a nerveless win on Thursday morning. Reduced to 5-73 chasing 303 in the decider, Glenn Maxwell and Alex Carey’s 212-run stand steered Australia to one of its best 50-over wins in recent years.
The pair’s late dismissals left the door ajar for England in the final over, but that was slammed shut by a final-over Mitchell Starc cameo that saw the Aussies home.
Played in front of empty stadiums with the wider backdrop of Cricket Australia’s crisis on the home front, some questioned the players’ investment in the UK tour. But the emotional scenes that ensued from Starc’s sweep shot to win suggested it was an important victory for Finch and his team.
By far the best white-ball team in recent years, England hadn’t lost an ODI series at home since 2015, and had not lost any 50-over series for almost four years.
For those Australian players part of the dismal 5-0 whitewash in 2018, this probably felt pretty good.
2. Being patient with Glenn Maxwell pays off
Yes, he’s inconsistent. Yes, he gets out playing unconventional shots. And yes, at times those dismissals are at crucial, frustrating stages.
But the pay-off for patience with Glenn Maxwell is enormous. And in this case, it was a series-winning hand that ensured a famous win on foreign soil.
Make no mistake, no other player in Australia cricket was capable of the innings Maxwell played at Old Trafford on Thursday morning. On just his third ball he dispatched Jofra Archer over deep midwicket with an outrageous pick-up.
Adil Rashid was a thorn in Australia’s side for much of the T20 and ODI series, but Maxwell’s three towering sixes off the leg spinner between the 34th and 38th overs kept the required rate manageable, and eased any pressure on Alex Carey, who was able to rotate strike effectively.
Two things stuck in my mind after Maxwell was presented with the player of the series trophy. The first was the confidence he takes from his new open stance.
“My technique doesn’t look traditional, but I feel calm at the crease,” he said.
And the second was the confidence he takes from having close friend Aaron Finch as Australian skipper.
“I just had so much clarity on what he expected of me in that role… just knowing I had the backing of him is awesome.”
Here’s hoping he shifts this form into the upcoming IPL.
3. Sometimes you need some luck
Australians woke up on Thursday morning to see Alex Carey had plundered his first ODI ton in a match-winning knock: 106 off 114 to ensure a famous victory. But those who witnessed his entire innings would know things weren’t so straightforward, especially early in his innings.
Coming off a poor run of form that’s seen him average just 13.6 internationally since the World Cup, Carey was more than just shaky early. He played and missed, was uncomfortable under the short ball and twice attempted crazy singles with Marnus Labuschagne. On their third attempt Labuschagne was run out needlessly.
When Carey upper-cut Jofra Archer straight down the throat of third man on just nine, it’s no stretch to say his position in the Australian side would be questioned in the aftermath.
But as it turned out, Archer had overstepped, a free hit ensued, and Carey slowly but surely eased his way into an innings. Timing returned, gaps were hit, and all of a sudden the player that burst onto the international stage was back.
4. Zampa’s rise continues
While Maxwell was deservedly handed the player of the series award, one man who wasn’t far behind was Adam Zampa. The leg spinner’s figures of 3-51 in the decider took him to ten wickets in the ODI series, well ahead of next-best Jofra Archer with seven. In doing so, he became the the first Australian spinner to take ten wickets in a three-match ODI series.
Zampa has become a trusted bowler for Finch in recent times, even in the chaotic last ten overs. Perhaps unluckily, Zampa was cast aside in favour of Nathan Lyon in the group stage of last year’s World Cup, and didn’t play a part in Australia’s last four games.
Since then he’s become clearly the number one white-ball spinner in the country, and alongside Mitchell Starc, he is probably the first bowler picked in both ODIs and T20Is.
5. Australia should rotate the pace cartel
Speaking of the Australian bowlers, it became clear throughout the ODI series that against the best teams in the world, Australia probably shouldn’t play their famed Test cartel of Mitchell Starc, Pat Cummins and Josh Hazlewood together in white-ball cricket.
The reason? They simply don’t have enough variations when variations are needed. In Game 3, bowling to England’s bowlers, Australia conceded 53 runs off the last five overs. In Game 2, they conceded 59.
Those partnerships proved match-defining in one, and very nearly series-defining in the other. Kane Richardson’s absence was noticeable in these periods.
A less heralded operator than the Test trio, Richardson offers an array of pace-off deliveries that differ greatly from his teammates, and on Manchester’s wearing square would have proven useful.
It goes without saying that Australia is spoilt having Starc, Cummins and Hazlewood available at once, but tempting as it may be, rotating one out for a bowler like Richardson may prove useful.