England have scaled some magnificent heights during their development into a world-class one-day team, but captain Eoin Morgan called his team’s series-clinching 16-run victory in Sydney their best since the revival began after the 2015 World Cup.
There were plenty of justifiable reasons for that: Australia played their strongest attack of the series, it was a slightly tricky two-paced surface on which to set a score, England were only touching five an over at the 40-over mark, and they overcame the loss of Liam Plunkett two balls into his second over with a hamstring injury.
Jos Buttler, with his fifth ODI century, and Chris Woakes added an unbroken 113 – 48 runs coming off the last three overs – then Morgan marshalled his resources expertly, as he had at the Gabba, to coax the required overs from Joe Root to absorb Plunkett’s absence. Adil Rashid produced his most economical display of the series leaving Woakes and Mark Wood some breathing space to close things out.
“This is certainly right up there. It was a huge contribution in what was our best performance as a group to date, throughout the last two years,” Morgan said. “Throughout the game today there were a lot of questions asked of us. With the bat, the way the pitch turned out, it wasn’t as good as we thought it would be, and we never really got away from Australia. It was a bit of a cat-fight for quite a stage and Jos anchored the innings until about the 40th over and then really did pull the trigger.
“To have a guy with his capabilities and talent in our team, we are very privileged. We have seen him do that before but against one of the best sides in the world it is great to watch.”
When Plunkett limped off after attempting the third ball of his second over, Morgan knew he would need to find the best part of eight overs from part-timers. Though Root went at nearly seven an over, the fact that Australia couldn’t score at a run a ball against Rashid and Moeen Ali meant Morgan never felt he lost control of the innings.
“Liam going down was a bit of a hammer blow but Joe stood up and all the bowlers contributed at different times. It was awesome,” he said. “When he went off he sought of flagged it that it wasn’t going to be good. So it was a matter of trying to get as many overs out of Joe without Australia really pushing the button. He managed to sustain that, ended up bowling two spells, and at no stage did Australia bring the run rate down considerably – that would have meant bringing one of our better bowlers on earlier than intended.”
However, without the power-packed finish from Buttler and Woakes England would probably not have had enough to defend having been made to work much harder with the bat than in the opening two matches. Buttler said that initially the aim was to reach 270 but the late charge went so well they were able to cross 300 for the 19th time in 28 ODIs batting first since June 2015. For that, Buttler, happy to turn the spotlight off himself, praised Woakes’ role.
“Jonny [Bairstow] came back into the dressing room after he got out and said that 270 would be a really competitive score, so we were just trying to work towards that and give ourselves three overs to really take it on. Woakesy is playing so well at the minute, he probably went earlier than I did and played some fantastic shots and really got us up to a stage where we could pass 270 and get a fantastic score on that wicket.”
After a slow start to the series at the MCG, Woakes has impressed with bat and ball in the next two matches.
“Like the other day it was outstanding. It went under the radar at Brisbane, but he really did bounce back from the MCG exceptionally well, back to the Woakes that we know and appreciate in the side,” Morgan said. “He does a fantastic job and a lot of the time doesn’t get the limelight.
“With the bat I thought he created a big partnership with Jos and played some beautiful shots and was rewarded for them. With the ball he leads the attack which is great.”