England will again defeat Australia in an international match one day. The wheel always turns. It always has, it always will.
Predicting when this happy day may occur, however, is a trifle awkward after the astonishing loss they suffered on Friday. Defending a total of 300 – one of their highest of an arduous tour – there were several stages when the second one-day international looked all done.
Eoin Morgan had scored a resplendent hundred and England were always ahead in the match, if never quite dominating it. Australia were 32 for 2, 120 for 5 and finally, drat it, 244 for 9. That seemed to be the moment when England had shrugged off their opponents and were at last to win a proper contest on this ill-fated tour.
However, the force, or something akin to it, is with Australia now. James Faulkner had spent the entire Ashes campaign as a faithful 12th man learning, as he put it, to stir a pretty decent brew, but this was his stage and he stampeded across it.
He conjured a thunderous innings of 69 from 47 balls which included three fours and five sixes. That alone does not quite tell how late he left it. It was very late indeed. Australia arrived at the last 12 balls still needing 25 to win. But Faulkner needed only nine of them.
In the 49th over he hit Ben Stokes for two more sixes to follow the three he had already bludgeoned to the leg side, and snatched the strike at the end of the over. If there was some debate about whether Stokes should have been bowling the over – but how will he learn if he is kept from such perilous situations? – there was none about Tim Bresnan bowling the 50th.
Bresnan has not been at his peak on this tour but he is a cool, tough customer who knows about bowling at the death, and he’s a Yorkshireman. He went for the old faithful, the slower ball. Faulkner knew he would.
To the first the batsman got lucky as a slow bouncer took the top edge and went agonisingly above the flailing, outstretched arms of the wicketkeeper, Jos Buttler. The second, slow again, was pulled viciously for four. By now Faulkner could have done as he liked and merely stepped away to splatter another four through cover.
England could hardly believe what had happened to them. There have been a series of cruel blows on this tour, the consequences of which are not all known yet. To have come so close to attaining a first meaningful win in 12 long weeks – with two and a bit still to go which stretch before them like half a lifetime – was perhaps the cruellest of all.
What a distant dream the days of summer seem now. England could do no wrong even when they were doing wrong. Australia found a way to be defeated in that long-ago Ashes series just as England found a way to win.
Gradually, as the summer wore on, Australia started to claw their way back into it. Belief and confidence did not exactly flood back but the tap was turned on again. It had been a rancorous few months for them.
And so the second one-day international arrived with Australia having won seven consecutive matches against England, comprising the final one-day match in England, five Test matches and the first of this one-day series.
Australia’s muscular approach indicated that they would make it eight. As the winter has worn on, it has been nothing so much as sand being kicked in the face of the seven-stone weakling.
But how England fought. Alastair Cook and Ian Bell gave them a rousing start on a deck that was full of runs. Cook then hit a half-volley back to the bowler. The captain needs runs but that sequence of words has been written in precisely that order so often now that there really is no point in repeating it. What he probably needs more right now is a rest but, unfortunately, England cannot shed a fourth player from this disastrous expedition.
Bell made one of his least fluent fifties but at least he stuck at it. The partnership that mattered, however, was the one between Morgan and Buttler. It was defiant in many ways, not least in seeming to suggest that England can put all their power at the back of an innings.
Morgan took 70 balls to reach his fifty, another 24 to reach his hundred. He had been caught on one but, being the smart cricketer he is, he had already noticed that Australia had too few fielders in the circle, which meant a no-ball which in turn entitled him to virtually a free hit.
His innings contained six sixes, one steepler off Mitchell Johnson of all people. But he could not have done it without Buttler, a dazzling, nerveless one-day operator who is learning fast.
Chris Jordan, another doing likewise, took two early wickets, Joe Root’s part-time but influential off-spin took two more. Shaun Marsh and Gavin Maxwell clubbed a few to stay in the hunt. But Bresnan struck twice in an over. The innings was tailing off.
Cook had options all over the place but almost all of them lacked experience. He plumped for the warrior qualities of Stokes ahead of Jordan and Ravi Bopara. Faulkner chanced his arm – he had to. And England fell apart once more.
England’s women fell to a two-wicket defeat in their one-day warm-up match against a Cricket Australia Women’s Representative XI in Melbourne. Sarah Taylor made 52 and Lydia Greenway 44 but England were all out for 237. Danielle Hazell took two wickets in two balls before the hosts reached their target with 13 balls remaining.