Australia ended the Ashes summer on a high at the Rose Bowl last night as Shane Watson’s destructive century secured a series-deciding victory. His 143 from 107 balls, along with Michael Clarke’s 75, sprinkled stardust over the Australian innings of 298 all out.
England’s only hope lay with a similar contribution from their own Ashes heroes.
There may be worse ways to begin a chase of 299, but you’d have to have a vivid imagination to come up with one more disfiguring than running out your most dangerous batsman off the first ball of his innings in the first over of the reply.
But for the second time in the series, Kevin Pietersen and Michael Carberry were involved in a calamitous runout. This time, Carberry reversed their Edgbaston roles, delayed his call of ‘ yes’ and left Pietersen high and dry.
Fittingly that is also where it left England’s hopes, although the real damage was done far earlier in the day. Boyd Rankin, inspired by the bait of a seat on the Ashes plane, led the attack with all the poise of a seasoned England player. But where he led, the others barely followed.
The manner of Ben Stokes’ five wickets was more suggestive of a lucky bowler and while a five-fer is not to be sniffed at, it was Rankin’s performance that will be causing Steven Finn and Chris Tremlett pre-Ashes palpitations.
Sussex’s Chris Jordan made his debut in place of Finn but won’t be on the plane to Australia. The exuberant Aaron Finch crashed Jordan’s first ball through the covers as the Australian opener seized on the chance to inflict a psychological blow on the debutant. But Jordan is made of sterner stuff. He proved it would take more than a couple of scabrous blows to rough him up by claiming Phillip Hughes as his first victim.
A man whose tour has appeared to be designed as one long form of mental torture could only top edged forlornly to Carberry at mid-off.
By contrast, Finch played as if international cricket was as easy as a back-garden bash back in the Victorian township of Colac, where he learnt his fearless strokes.
And then the rain came and altered the course of this match. It doesn’t often rain on Colac’s volcanic plains and the squall disrupted Finch’s concentration. He failed to get on top of a square drive from Ben Stokes after the rain delay and slapped the ball straight to Eoin Morgan.
At that point Stokes had two international wickets from 178 deliveries, but minutes later he had two in two. Matthew Wade was unable to resist an innocuous bouncer that ended up in Jos Buttler’s mitts via the batsman’s glove.
Australia had gone from 48 for 1 to three down for no addition. However, those quick wickets were a torment in disguise as Clarke joined Watson at the crease.
They came together with a wall of rain clouds charging towards the Rose Bowl. Morgan must have wished it was Lord Cardigan leading the charge - instead the clouds demonstrated far more sense than the Light Brigade and circumvented the ground. Out came the sun, off came the shackles.
James Tredwell’s tight first over went for three singles, but his second went for 17. Sixes were judged with drone-like precision with two from Watson teasing the hands of fielders in the deep before opting for the more alluring bosom of the crowd.
It took the pair 39 more balls to bring up their century stand with Clarke as cheeky and delicate as Watson was ruthless and brutal.
Clarke arrived at his fifty by the same means as his second-in- command, an easy single, but that was a rare example of their innings merging. Clarke manoeuvered the fielders like a conductor, whereas Watson simply ignored them with dismissive destructiveness.
When Clarke fell to Jordan for 75 from 76 balls after mistiming a pull, the pair had amassed 163 in 22 overs. Watson then watched a succession of team-mates toss away their wickets before taking matters into his own hands.
He terrorised Root’s offspin by taking 26 runs from five balls in the 44th over, passing 5,000 one-day runs in the process.
By the time Watson fell to a wide ball from Stokes, he had guaranteed an imposing total.
It was one that England never really came close to overhauling, even with a boisterous cameo of 42 from 37 balls from Buttler and Ravi Bopara’s 62 from 66 deliveries
While Watson and Clarke batted together for 22 overs, England lost wickets with alarming alacrity.
Carberry played like a man bent on cricketing suicide. His home crowd were on edge, sensing his consternation and, as twilight turned to gloom, Root’s own struggles added to the anxiety.
Carberry was put out of his misery by a straight one from James Faulkner to bring Morgan to the crease but he could only make 30 before being bowled.
Buttler and Bopara briefly raised hopes of an unlikely victory with some lusty blows, but when they were dismissed in close succession, the writing was on the wall and Fawad Ahmed’s dismissal of Rankin wrapped up the series win.
Scoreboard: Rose Bowl details
England v Australia
The Rose Bowl (One Day): Australia beat England by 49 runs
Australia won toss
P J Hughes c Carberry b Jordan 2
9 balls 0 sixes 0 fours
A J Finch c Morgan b Stokes 26
32 balls 0 sixes 6 fours
S R Watson c Buttler b Stokes 143
107 balls 6 sixes 12 fours
†M S Wade c Buttler b Stokes 0
1 balls 0 sixes 0 fours
*M J Clarke c Pietersen b Jordan 75
76 balls 1 sixes 10 fours
G J Bailey st Buttler b Root 4
14 balls 0 sixes 0 fours
A C Voges c Buttler b Stokes 8
17 balls 0 sixes 0 fours
J P Faulkner c Buttler b Jordan 10
19 balls 0 sixes 0 fours
M G Johnson c & b Stokes 2
2 balls 0 sixes 0 fours
C J McKay c Root b Rankin 5
16 balls 0 sixes 0 fours
Fawad Ahmed not out 4
2 balls 0 sixes 1 fours
Extras (lb10 w9) 19
Total (49.1 overs) 298
Fall: 1-13, 2-48, 3-48, 4-211, 5-221, 6-244, 7-282, 8-284, 9-294.
Bowling: W B Rankin 9.1-1-26-1, C J Jordan 10-0-51-3, B A Stokes 10-0-61-5, R S Bopara 10-0-54-0, J C Tredwell 4-0-38-0, J E Root 6-0-58-1.
M A Carberry lbw b Faulkner 30
50 balls 0 sixes 4 fours
K P Pietersen run out 0
1 balls 0 sixes 0 fours
J E Root b Johnson 21
36 balls 0 sixes 0 fours
*E J G Morgan st Wade b Voges 30
39 balls 0 sixes 3 fours
L J Wright run out 0
1 balls 0 sixes 0 fours
R S Bopara c Voges b Johnson 62
66 balls 0 sixes 5 fours
†J C Buttler b Faulkner 42
37 balls 0 sixes 4 fours
B A Stokes c Clarke b Faulkner 27
25 balls 1 sixes 2 fours
C J Jordan c Bailey b Watson 14
25 balls 0 sixes 1 fours
J C Tredwell not out 5
4 balls 0 sixes 1 fours
W B Rankin b Ahmed 4
4 balls 0 sixes 0 fours
Extras (b3 lb5 w6) 14
Total (48 overs) 249
Fall: 1-1, 2-50, 3-64, 4-68, 5-103, 6-195, 7-197, 8-236, 9-240.
Bowling: C J McKay 9-1-54-0, M G Johnson 10-1-21-2, J P Faulkner 9-0-38-3, Fawad Ahmed 7-0-51-1, A C Voges 4-0-25-1, S R Watson 9-0-52-1.
Umpires: Aleem Dar and R J Bailey.