England held an upper hand over Australia nearly till the very end of a heart-stopping second ODI at the Gabba on Friday. When Australia lost Mitchell Johnson in the 44th over, with the score reading 244/9, it was England’s game for taking. With just a single wicket in hand Australia still required 57 runs in the last 6 overs. Therefore, the double handicap of saving the wicket and still scoring at nearly 10 per over, appeared too much for Australia.
Earlier England had put up a good score on the board, thanks to some controlled aggression by Eoin Morgan. Though England began well, they lost quick wickets early on. At one stage, 5 English batsmen have gone back to the pavilion at the score of 178. The run-rate of fewer than 5 could not have been called encouraging by any standards. But Morgan took upon the baton in his hands and along with Jos Buttler, added 117 in 11 overs. This was acceleration par excellence and it lifted England out of the woods. Unfortunately Morgans’s heroics will not be remembered as much as Faulkner’s explosive batting in the closing stages of the Australian innings. Morgan reached his second fifty in mere 24 balls, hitting 5 sixes. His hundred came in 94 balls and it helped England put up a very competitive 300/8 in 50 overs.
England continued to have the dominance in the match when Australia came on to bat. The talented Aaron Finch, centurion at MCG, played an uppish shot and Gary Balance held a head-high one-handed catch at mid-off. Dismissal of David Warner was another big blow to Australia. Chris Jordan showed great reflex in his follow through, when he held a brilliant catch to send back Warner. Finch and Warner have always been Australia’s mainstays and their departure fortified England’s chances further. For a while, Australia showed resurgence, when Shaun Marsh and Maxwell put pressure on England bowling. But wickets kept falling to make England’s stranglehold stronger.
Just when everything was going right for England, James Faulkner emerged on the scene. Little did England know that the clock had suddenly turned unfavorably for them. When the luck stops favoring you, the ruin will come regardless. Australia’s time-tested ODI hero, Faulkner, spoiled England’s party in a role-play, only he is capable of enacting. With 9 wickets gone, Faulkner had only Clint McKay for company for the 10th wicket and he had to ensure that his partner did not face too many balls in any case. Therefore, Faulkner played with his head on his shoulders and refused easy singles, which were happy dot-balls for England. Faulkner not only succeeded in shielding Mckay, he found twos, boundaries and sixes to prevent the run-rate from jumping to monumental levels. At the end of 48 overs, Australia still required 25 runs for victory. Faulkner had to shield Mckay from any strike in the remaining 12 balls and he took charge from the first ball of 49th over. He was seeing the ball so well that he didn’t mind a few dot balls. In one of the most controlled display of batting at death, James Faulkner emerged the hero as needed to touch only 9 out of the remaining 12 deliveries, from which he scored 0, 0, 6, 6, 0, 1, 4, 4, 4. There were many at Gabba, who would held their breath until the third delivery of Bresnan’s 50th over, when Faulkner found a gap on the off-side and beat a fielder in the 30-yard circle, as the ball raced to the extra-cover boundary. There were delirious scenes in the stadium and some people still pinched their skin to ensure they were not day-dreaming. One was immediately reminded of Faulkner’s similar feat at Mohali not very long ago. It was the third ODI of the Australia-India Series played on October 19, 2013. In that match, when all was lost, Faulkner stole the game from India in the last four overs by mercilessly massacring the Indian bowlers and piling up 64 off 29 balls to settle the issue in favor of his team.
With three more ODI’s remaining in the Ashes Series, the writing on the wall is clear. England needs to win all the three matches to show they still have the capability of beating Australia. For Australia, just one more game will clinch the ODI series, though they could be looking for another whitewash.