Pat Cummins admitted a sense of concern remained among Australia’s middle and lower order even as Aaron Finch and Marnus Labuschagne were taking the tourists to within touching distance of an ODI series victory over England at Old Trafford, foreshadowing a hellish collapse to allow Eoin Morgan’s team to square the ledger.
On a used pitch that Cummins described as being more like a “day four or five Test wicket”, the Australians had failed to finish off the England tail, allowing them to wriggle from 149 for 8 with 59 balls of the innings remaining to 231 for 9. That meant that even as Finch and Labuschagne were hoisting the visitors to 144 for 2 in the 31st over of the chase, plenty of anxiety remained in the Australian viewing area.
Morgan clearly sensed it too, as he brought back Chris Woakes and Jofra Archer, tightened the field and let the pressure of the pitch and the scoreboard take its course. The loss of eight wickets for 63, including the first four for three in 21 balls, duly fulfilled the prophecy.
“I think having fielded 50 overs on that wicket, we knew it was going to be really hard work,” vice-captain Cummins said. “We were really happy when Marnus and Aaron were going along nicely, but I think I heard at one stage the commentators saying ‘they’re going along beautifully here, they’re walking it home’, whereas none of us were thinking that.
“We knew the last 80 or 90 runs were going to be hard work on that wicket, especially as the ball got a little bit softer and older. The mood was pretty good, everyone I’m sure came up with their plans and their ideas, there was no real nervousness or anything, we’ve all played a lot of cricket, so it was a tough finish in the end.
“It was a really tough wicket especially to start on, and unfortunately we just couldn’t get through that period and couldn’t finish it off. It was more like a day four or five Test wicket where it was a bit up and down. You saw some guys still bat quite well on it, once you’re in you can get there, but also it felt like you could really squeeze [the run rate] and not that true bounce you expect over here.”
Clearly crestfallen by the manner of the defeat, Finch had spoken similarly at the post-match presentation of how it was possible Australia had overthought things while waiting to complete the task. “Guys will have their own plans but at times we might not be 100% committed,” Finch said. “I think at times we might overplay the situation in your head. We have to get better at that, obviously.
“We knew it was always going to be tough for new batters to start on a wicket like that. England squeezed, they bowled really straight, it was hard to take them on down the ground, hard to hit boundaries in that middle period but still very disappointed. We knew we’d be playing on a used wicket, it was getting more difficult as the game went on. Still no excuse for that collapse. Probably not the most view-friendly one-day game but it provides an even contest between bat and ball which at times in one-day cricket I think is missing a bit.”
Looking back to the period in which Tom Curran, Adil Rashid and Archer scrounged 82 runs from the last 10 overs of England’s innings, Cummins said that on pitches such as this one, the bowlers and captain needed to be open to changing plans, as opposed to how truer pitches more often prepared for limited-overs games generally left bowlers with only a couple of options.
“On that wicket for 40 overs it felt like good-length bowling was the hardest to hit, and then suddenly they started hitting them quite nicely. We’ll have a review for sure. I think we went for 80-odd runs in the last 10 overs,” Cummins said. “We’re suddenly only chasing 200 and it’s a different game. Adil and Tom are both really good batsmen, they might be batting nine and 10, but when they walked out we knew they could still hold a bat.
“On a really good wicket for your death bowling you go to yorkers, you might go slower balls or bouncers. Here it’s about tossing up what’s the hardest ball to hit. Is it a yorker or maybe it’s the top of the stumps, maybe keep the fields in for longer, spinners might have more of an impact. I really enjoy it, it makes you think differently, come up and try and problem solve.”