A summer that defied expectations ended with a fitting finale but England defeated as centuries from Glenn Maxwell and Alex Carey steered Australia to a nail-biting three-wicket victory and a memorable 2-1 series win.
It was the result most would have predicted when Mitchell Starc knocked over Jason Roy and Joe Root with the first two deliveries of the day, and Eoin Morgan strolled out to the middle to face a hat-trick ball so soon after winning the toss.
Yet with England rallying to 302 for seven thanks to Jonny Bairstow’s 10th ODI century, and Australia slipping to 73 for five in reply, it needed Maxwell’s 108 from 90 balls, allied with a 114-ball 106 from Carey, to inflict a first home series defeat in five years for the 50-over world champions.
Justin Langer and Aaron Finch, coach and captain, will draw huge satisfaction from this win. Their side didn’t just deliver without Steve Smith – absent again after his blow to the head six days ago – but also overcame a mental barrier that had seen two previous chases go awry on this six-match white-ball tour. It came after a rocky start to their pursuit under lights too as Chris Woakes capped off a fine individual summer across the Test and one-day formats by following his unbeaten 53 with the removals of Finch and Marcus Stoinis in the first five overs.
And things then got worse for the tourists when the part-time spin of Root wiped out David Warner and Mitch Marsh in the space of six balls – the former bowled by a beauty – and Sam Billings ran out Marnus Labuschagne from cover in the 17th over.
But over the course of the next 31 overs a sixth-wicket stand of 212 between Maxwell and Carey drove England to distraction, the former clearing a mere 66-yard boundary seven times in his second ODI century, the latter doing so twice en route to his first.
England were left to rue handing both men a life – Carey was caught off a no-ball on nine when Jofra Archer overstepped, while Maxwell was dropped by Jos Buttler on 44 after Adil Rashid teased a thin edge – and their late dismissals weren’t enough.
Maxwell top-edged a sweep off Rashid with 18 still required off 15 balls, then Carey fell to a tumbling catch from Mark Wood that left Starc needing 10 from the final over. There was no wobble this time, however, with the fast bowler bookending an eventful day by cracking six and four off Rashid to win it with two balls to spare and send Australian roars echoing around Old Trafford.
“Playing against Australia you are never home and dry,“ said Morgan afterwards. “[But] it’s been extremely positive on all fronts from where we were five months ago. To have a full set of [men’s] international fixtures is huge for the game.”
This defeat, one that means England’s men finish this bizarre international season with four series wins, one draw and a defeat, came despite the flashing blade of Bairstow delivering 112 from 126 deliveries, with 12 fours and two sixes.
Like Maxwell later on, Bairstow enjoyed the short square boundary to one side that, allied with an unusual north-easterly blowing across Old Trafford, made bowling from the James Anderson End in particular a challenge all day.
That said, Starc did not seem to mind these conditions – initially at least – when he inflicted England’s worst start to an innings in their 752 ODIs by having Roy caught at backward point and trapping Root with a masterful inswinger.
England Women have named a 16-player squad for this month’s five-match Twenty20 series against the West Indies in Derby.
Sophia Dunkley and Katie George have joined 14 of the 15 players who were involved in the T20 World Cup earlier this year, with Georgia Elwiss dropping out due to a back injury.
The opening contest of the Vitality IT20 series at the Incora County Ground on Monday will be England’s first match of a summer. PA Medi
England squad: Heather Knight, Tammy Beaumont, Katherine Brunt, Kate Cross, Freya Davies, Sophia Dunkley, Sophie Ecclestone, Katie George, Sarah Glenn, Amy Jones, Nat Sciver, Anya Shrubsole, Mady Villiers, Fran Wilson, Lauren Winfield, Danni Wyatt.
Morgan responded in typical fashion by going on the offensive, denying Starc his hat-trick before crunching a four through cover to kickstart a counterattacking partnership of 67 with Bairstow during the powerplay.
Adam Zampa’s introduction helped stem the bleeding as both Morgan (23) and Jos Buttler (eight) picked out catchers in the ring. But a sprightly 57 from Billings – including one pulled six off Pat Cummins that nearly left the bubble entirely – provided ideal support for Bairstow in a 114‑run partnership.
Bairstow has slightly struggled for rhythm this summer but on the truest surface of the series he was back to his bullying best, needing 48 balls for his half-century and easing down a touch to reach three-figures off 116 when, with a whip of the wrists, he lifted a 90mph delivery from Cummins over the short side for six.
Zampa eventually removed Billings via a top-edged sweep, becoming the first Australian spinner to take 10 wickets in an ODI series, and when an off-cutter from Cummins bowled Bairstow at the start of the 41st over, England sat 220 for six.
Woakes stepped up, ensuring a record chase on the ground would be required with some inventive shots – including one remarkable deft four through the vacant slip area – that added 82 in the final 10 overs of England’s innings.
Starc in particular took some punishment during this late salvo but come the end of this epic match, his was a frown turned upside down.