SOUTHAMPTON: Australia avoided a series whitewash as they survived a mid-innings wobble to beat England by five wickets in the third Twenty20 International and regain their top-ranking in the sport’s shortest format on Tuesday night.
Having restricted England to 145 for 6 at the Ageas Bowl, they appeared to be cruising as they reached 70-1 off seven overs before three wickets for inspired leg-spinner Adil Rashid slammed the brakes on their progress.
But England’s fielding was ragged and they spilled several catches before Mitchell Marsh plundered 13 off paceman Mark Wood’s final over to ease Australian nerves and put them firmly back in the driving seat.
In the end it was reasonably comfortable for Australia with Marsh striking the winning single off Chris Jordan with three balls left to finish unbeaten on 39.
Jonny Bairstow had earlier top-scored for England with 55 in 44 balls.
Australia had slipped to second in the ICC’s T20 rankings after falling 2-0 down in the series.
Captain Aaron Finch said it was a relief to get a first win on the board since they returned from a long international hiatus caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, especially after throwing away the first match from a winning position.
“We know where we messed up in the first game, we know where we could improve. We played good cricket but couldn’t finish it off, but Mitch and Ashton [Agar] got us over the line,” he said. “It’s been great learning curve after a long lay-off.”
England — captained by Moeen Ali for the first time with the injured Eoin Morgan having a night off — laboured early on after Josh Hazlewood had Tom Banton caught behind in the second over.
Bairstow initially struggled to middle anything and England were 33-1 after the six Powerplay overs. Dawid Malan and Bairstow broke the shackles before Malan was out for 21 with Marcus Stoinis taking a good catch at deep mid-wicket off leg-spinner Adam Zampa.
Bairstow found his range with one huge slog-sweep six off Zampa but the spinner hit back to dismiss Sam Billings who gloved an attempted reverse sweep to Finch.
Bairstow then was caught and bowled by Agar after top-edging and Steve Smith then superbly caught Moeen on the deep mid-wicket boundary off the rapid bowling of Mitchell Starc.
Opener Matthew Wade gave Australia a fast start and after he departed for 14, Stoinis continued the attack.
Bairstow dropped a sitter off Finch before Stoinis fell to Tom Curran for 26 off 18.
Australia were in danger of imploding when Glenn Maxwell reverse swept Rashid to backward point and two balls later Rashid bowled Finch (39) through the gate with a ripper.
Malan failed to even get a hand on a routine catch when Marsh edged Denly but Smith chipped one straight back to Rashid for a routine catch to leave Australia on 100-5.
Marsh, however, kept his cool though to guide Australia home as the all-rounder marked his with a crucial knock.
“Six months is a long time without cricket so it’s great to get the opportunity,” man-of-the-match Marsh said. ”It’s nice to finish off the series and nice to contribute. I would’ve liked my first game back to be a bit easier than that… I certainly looked up to make sure Rashid had bowled out and I do like pace on the ball.”
Stand-in England skipper Moeen was grateful to have captained his country for the first time.
“It was a very proud moment and an amazing experience, sadly we didn’t win but I thought we showed good fight in the end,” he said. “Generally in the field we weren’t great and we didn’t back the bowlers up as we would have liked.”
England will now face Australia in three One-day Internationals at Old Trafford in Manchester, starting on Friday. It will be the first time they have played an ODI since England beat Australia in the semi-finals of last year’s World Cup.