The hunt for the whitewash has been quite the theme of England and Australia’s recent rivalry. Australia’s Test team were denied a clean sweep in the Ashes after Alastair Cook’s monolithic double-century at Melbourne; then one month later, England’s white-ball team missed out on their own 5-0, when hubris (swiftly followed by their nemeses, Pat Cummins and Josh Hazlewood) got the better of them in an 8 for 5 meltdown in the fourth match at Adelaide.
But this time around, does anyone actually believe that Australia have the wherewithal to halt the English juggernaut? They gave it their best shot at Durham on Thursday, batting with due care and attention to post an apparently imposing 310 for 8 – at the time, the highest ODI total ever recorded at Chester-le-Street. And yet, it’s been a week for short-lived records. By the time Jonny Bairstow and Jason Roy had romped to a 100-run stand in 13.2 overs (they had taken 13.1 to reach the same mark in England’s 481 at Trent Bridge), the contest was a lost cause.
To be fair, Australia did battle back to a degree – but then again, England also throttled back after the loss of both their openers in quick succession. And far from being an indication of a potential weakness, that is an evolution of England’s game-plan that bodes well for the whitewash. Where once their response to adversity would have been to go harder and faster at the ball, now they no longer feel the need to prove their big-hitting credentials in every situation.
During that period, when Billy Stanlake in particular was pressing hard for the breakthrough, it was Joe Root, with a nurdle-heavy 27, and Alex Hales, shelving the big strokes to drop anchor with 34 not out from 45 balls, who weathered the storm before Jos Buttler came bundling out of the pavilion for a second-wave assault – a brisk 28-ball fifty, and Australia had been comprehensively filleted.
Of course, it is not out of the question that Australia can find a higher gear. But, much as England in their pre-2015 renaissance tended to rely on their opponents having an off-day in order to pick off their intermittent wins, so it seems that Tim Paine’s men do not dare to take on their opponents head-on.
The sight of Joe Root dobbing his way through an entire 10-over spell of into-the-pads offspin was a testament to that fact. Less fearful opponents would have clubbed him out of the attack after a few sighters. Instead, by the 27th over, he had conceded just 44 runs and England’s options for the second half of the innings were wide open. Hubris, as mentioned earlier, has got the better of this team in the past. But the depth of options and coursing of confidence throughout Eoin Morgan’s squad suggests that it will take something incredible to deny them.
(last five completed matches, most recent first)
In the spotlight
When England last lost an ODI against Australia, it was Travis Head who put the seal on their defeat, ticking off a 107-ball 96 that guarded against any accidents as his team hunted down a sub-par target of 197. He’s had a couple of starts in this series, having been bumped up to the top of the order in David Warner’s absence, making 51 at Trent Bridge and 63 in Durham, but on both occasions, he’s given it away when well set. With just one ODI hundred to his name in 38 matches to date, his record is indicative of an Australia team that just keeps falling short at present.
Is David Willey really an England death bowler? It was something of a surprise when Morgan entrusted his swing bowler with the duties in the final overs – after all, he has habitually been used with the new ball and then ignored in the latter stages of previous matches, particularly when Chris Woakes and Ben Stokes have been available in England’s armoury. A four-wicket haul was a tidy riposte to the doubters, even if two of those wickets were slogged off the pads to deep midwicket, and a useful means to plead his case for retention when England’s senior seamers return from the sidelines.
Craig Overton endured a slightly nervy start to his ODI career (although he showed good awareness in the field to back up Jason Roy’s spectacular relay catch) and may make way for Liam Plunkett’s greater middle-overs knowhow as England press for their whitewash. Jake Ball is fit again and could come in if Mark Wood is rested.
England (probable) 1 Jason Roy, 2 Jonny Bairstow, 3 Alex Hales, 4 Joe Root, 5 Eoin Morgan (capt), 6 Jos Buttler (wk), 7 Moeen Ali, 8 David Willey, 9 Liam Plunkett, 10 Adil Rashid, 11 Mark Wood/Jake Ball
Nathan Lyon’s introduction to the bowling attack added some much-needed nous after the traumas of Trent Bridge, but Australia’s unbalanced line-up could definitely do with Glenn Maxwell overcoming the shoulder problem that forced him out of the Chester-le-Street game.
Australia (probable) 1 Aaron Finch, 2 Travis Head, 3 Shaun Marsh, 4 Marcus Stoinis, 5 Alex Carey, 6 Glenn Maxwell, 7 Tim Paine (capt & wk), 8 Ashton Agar, 9 Jhye Richardson, 10 Nathan Lyon, 11 Billy Stanlake.
Pitch and conditions
There should be runs in store once again, on what is forecast to be a warm day in Manchester – although Old Trafford can turn, with the recent dry weather only likely to aid spin further. Sunshine and a sellout are expected, with the World Cup football set to be broadcast on a big screen in the fanzone, too.
Stats and trivia
Jason Roy needs 81 runs to overhaul Alex Hales’ tally of 383 runs (against South Africa in 2016) as the highest-scoring England batsman in a single ODI series. And if he doesn’t get there, Bairstow might … he needs 96.
It will hardly come as a surprise given the indignities they have suffered in the series to date, but Australia’s economy rate is the worst they have ever conceded in a series of five or more matches – and the first time they have gone at more than seven an over.
England are bidding for only their second 5-0 whitewash in ODI history. The first came in October 2001, when Duncan Fletcher sent an exploratory squad out to play an Andy Flower-powered Zimbabwe.
“It would mean quite a lot, whitewashing anybody. It would be credit to the team and coaches, all that hard work of the past couple of years. But obviously we’re taking it a game at a time, it’s just another game.”
Adil Rashid suggests England aren’t getting ahead of themselves
“I don’t think we feel under a huge amount of pressure to prevent the whitewash. We just know that we can play better than how we’re playing at the moment.”
Ashton Agar says the final game is an opportunity for Australia