It seemed the sort of match when it was safe for the viewer to pop out to the kitchen for a cup of tea without missing anything crucial. At an empty, noisy stadium with the music system lurching into action after every boundary, the old firm of Aaron Finch and David Warner went about their business as if they had been playing regular cricket for the past few months.
They compiled a clinical opening partnership of 98. Given that Australia’s target was a modest 163 that should have decided the match without any further ado. Then in the time it takes for a kettle to boil Australia contrived to lose four wickets for nine runs in 14 deliveries.
Somehow, from a position of near invincibility, the game was in the balance. When Ashton Agar was run out by a millimetre or two Australia needed 15 for victory in the last over, bowled by Tom Curran. Marcus Stoinis hit the second delivery for six over extra cover; four runs were needed to tie off the last ball but he managed just two and a stunning two-run victory had been conjured from nowhere by England.
Eoin Morgan knew he did not have enough runs. Initially, he tested the openers with all-out pace as Jofra Archer and Mark Wood shared the new ball. Both exceeded 90 mph frequently but that did not seem to deter the Australians; after three overs they had 31 on the board.
Adil Rashid was introduced as soon as the powerplay was over and bowled an encouraging first over, beating the bat twice, but in his second Finch opened his shoulders and the ball disappeared into the redundant bucket seats.
England had to wait until the 11th over for their first wicket when Finch drove to mid-off but this hardly seemed to hinder their chase. Steve Smith, anticipating short deliveries from Wood, went on the back foot and pulled his first two balls for four. Soon he was launching a ball from Moeen Ali deep into the stands. Two noble England fielders took an age to find it.
Then a top-edge off Rashid ended Smith’s little cameo via a top edge and Glenn Maxwell smashed a drive straight to cover. Archer returned to bowl Warner; Wood bowled Alex Carey and the game was transformed.
Finch began with a rare act for an Australia captain in England in recent years by winning the toss and having a bowl. He explained that the idea was to start the tour together out on the field and England have often declared their preference for chasing – except in the closing stages of a World Cup. For a while this did not look a terribly good idea because Jos Buttler was on song in the opening overs.
The ploy of tossing the ball to Agar, the left-arm spinner, for the second over did not work so well as Buttler straight drove two sixes into the stands just below the players’ hotel rooms and there was a brutal pull in roughly the same direction that landed just short of the rope.
He lost Jonny Bairstow caught by Mitchell Starc, who was unusually stationed in a deep slip position.
England reached their fifty in the sixth over and Buttler had contributed 39. However, Australia averted the avalanche cleverly and the deceleration was triggered by their spinners. Crucially, Agar had Buttler caught at deep midwicket and this gave Australia a lift. Buttler can look so good that his relatively early dismissal has that effect on a fielding side.
While Dawid Malan looked on at the non-striker’s end three wickets soon fell to cagey finger-spinners; Tom Banton sliced a drive off Agar while Morgan and Moeen both attempted ambitious shots against Maxwell; Tom Curran, who may have been surprised himself to end up batting at No 7, struggled before holing out against Kane Richardson.
Given the lack of support Malan’s innings of 66 off 43 balls was very impressive and at least gave England a chance. This was his eighth score in excess of 50 in 14 matches, which takes some doing in this format. He is the sensible man in this line-up, gauging how many risks it is prudent to take while the gung-ho brigade try to strut their stuff. There was some clean hitting from him but it was crisp rather than violent. He is becoming increasingly tricky to leave out of the best XI.
He cover-drove powerfully and struck a couple of clinical sixes off the final over from Adam Zampa, who yielded 47 from his four overs. In hindsight, Finch did not need Zampa to bowl his full quota so that may have been a mistake. But it should not have made much difference.
The contest resumes at 2.15pm on Sunday. Forget about the tea.