WILLEY WALLOPS AUSSIES
The auld enemy of Scotland proved too strong but england just about got the better of the old cricketing enemy Australia on an unexpectedly lowscoring day at the Oval.
The start of the Aussies’ attempt at redemption following the Cape Town ball-tampering scandal ended with the No1 side in the world reasserting themselves after the embarrassment of edinburgh.
england, refusing to take a step back from the all-out attacking style that has revolutionised their whiteball cricket, lost seven wickets in overtaking an under-par Australian total of 214 all out.
But David Willey made 35, his highest score for england, and smashed debutant Michael Neser for a straight six to finish things off alongside Liam Plunkett with 36 balls to spare.
There was none of the toxic aggression that led to Australia’s implosion in South Africa in March and year-long bans for the Dastardly and Muttley of cricket — Steve Smith and David Warner — for cheating.
Instead, the first of five one- day internationals began with a staged show of sportsmanship and handshakes between the sides and was all sweetness and light.
The only notable sledging came from afar in the form of departed coach Darren Lehmann, who took the BBC’s excellent Alison Mitchell to task on Twitter.
All Mitchell had done was post a picture of one of the pieces of sandpaper with four or six on them that an enterprising stockbroking company had handed out outside the Oval to try to poke fun at the Aussies. Sadly, the spoilsports at Surrey attempted to confiscate all 5,000, blaming ambush marketing, but one or two spectators sneaked them in and tried to get them autographed by Aussies, to no avail.
england’s spinners had endured a miserable day in edinburgh when faced with the Grange’s short boundaries but here, just as predicted by eoin Morgan, they were back to proving integral to the home attack.
Morgan invariably trusts Moeen Ali in the powerplay and his confidence was justified again when Aaron Finch, with five centuries against england to his name, fell to the off-spinner’s fourth ball.
By that time Willey, perhaps the luckiest england bowler to retain his place after bowling far too short and failing to get swing against Scotland, had struck with his second ball to dismiss Travis head and england were on their way.
Australia had looked vulnerable to spin in the warm-up matches against Sussex and Middlesex and now Moeen and Adil Rashid took full advantage with five wickets between them, aided by an array of awful shots.
No one was more culpable than the man who has been charged with restoring Australia’s tattered reputation, captain Tim Paine, who will have to justify his place in this side ahead of the World Cup.
Paine played a reverse sweep off Moeen that was never a percentage shot with a short third man in place and succeeded only in finding Mark Wood.
When Marcus Stoinis fell to Rashid, Australia were 90 for five and heading for a thrashing that was only averted when Glenn Maxwell made his first half-century in one-day international cricket for 18 months.
Maxwell took 14 off Moeen’s last over to slightly spoil his figures and went on to 62 off 64 balls before Jonny Bairstow took an excellent, running catch on the boundary.
That was one of three wickets for another under-pressure bowler in Plunkett, who was the most expensive member of england’s attack in edinburgh. Plunkett, as revealed by Sportsmail on Tuesday, will miss england’s one- day series in Sri Lanka in October because of his wedding, so he cannot afford too many poor performances if he is not to fade away with the World Cup in sight.
When Andrew Tye became Plunkett’s third victim, Australia were about 100 short of par. But they were in the game when england slipped to 38 for three, Jason Roy falling second ball to the pace of Billy Stanlake, Alex hales trapped by Neser and Bairstow picking out the one deep fielder on the leg side.
Morgan and Root looked to be turning the chase into a stroll when they added 105 for the fourth wicket but, just as against Scotland, england stuttered as they stubbornly refused to adapt to the situation.
Jos Buttler could have been out twice in a skittish innings before he fell to Tye’s trademark knuckle ball and when Root departed to the excellent Stanlake, england were wobbling at 163 for six.
Moeen, who insisted before the game that he would continue to do things his way, again took england close to the finish line but again gave it away as he attempted to hook Neser over the longest boundary.
Thankfully for england, Willey provided an overdue calm hand on the tiller to put them one up with four to play against what looks an ordinary Australia side.