Malan century in vain as Australia make winning start to England ODI series

After weeks of Twenty20 cricket, it suddenly felt like everyone had time to breathe. With the luxury of space in the 50-over form, Dawid Malan assembled one of his best innings to carry England to 287 for nine, before David Warner’s typical riposte set Australia off to a running start, allowing them to walk down 291 for four in 47 overs. Starting a three-match one-day international series, the home team left Adelaide Oval leading 1-0.

Discontent from England players about this series arriving so soon after the T20 World Cup has been well documented, and was reflected in the one-day team that took the field. Of those finalists, Moeen Ali, Sam Curran, Adil Rashid and Chris Woakes were rested. The only ones who played were Malan, who missed the final, captain Jos Buttler, and late-tournament injury replacements Chris Jordan and Phil Salt. The other seven spots in the side were taken up by new arrivals.

Nonetheless, it was a diffident performance from England up against Australian fast bowling that immediately found a rhythm. Winning the toss and choosing to get into his work, Australian captain, Pat Cummins, hit a hard length and moved the ball around from the top of the innings, while Mitchell Starc bowled fuller and found swing. The smarts from Cummins to persist with two slips paid off in the fourth over, when Salt pushed hard at the line and edged the ball moving away to Steve Smith at the wider position.

James Vince similarly nicked Cummins to the wicketkeeper in the eighth over, after Jason Roy had fallen over his front leg to miss a missile from Starc that swung into the right-hander’s stumps. Sam Billings helped add 33 before losing his own stumps to a jagging Marcus Stoinis off-cutter. Then the biggest wicket fell, Buttler on 29 trying to attack Adam Zampa’s leg-break but finding the hands of long off rather than the open pastures of deep cover.

At 118 for five, Malan had spent his time quietly staying put at the other end. This was not 20-over cricket, where heart rates and blood pressure shoot up for spectators and players alike after two dot balls. Here Malan could block out four or five in a row, could leave a dangerous line outside off stump, could let a few overs go by for a handful of runs, and could know that he still had time to make back ground. He also knew that if he fell, England had few options left.

So the innings built: adding 40 runs with Liam Dawson before a run out, 41 before Zampa trapped Chris Jordan, then 60 with David Willey during which Malan reached his century. His own score went on to 134, his cleanly hit sixes including a drive and a pick-up from Cummins and a sweep from both of Australia’s spinners. He was patient when required, aggressive when able, took England deep into the last 10 overs, and made sure they were able to use every delivery available. It was everything that the shorter forms do not allow.

In the end, though, it was nowhere near enough. In January 2017 at Adelaide Oval, David Warner and Travis Head nearly broke the record for the highest one-day opening partnership, piling up 284 against Pakistan. Reunited this time, they put on 147. The match was all-but done inside 20 overs, and Warner too looked liberated by the extra time. He had one run from 10 balls before his first boundary, and was selective with the deliveries he wanted to attack on the pull or the drive. A scooped six off Willey was the highlight, with Warner ahead of a run a ball by the time he was caught pulling for 86.

By then Head had gone down for a feisty 69, but Australia were 200 for two, allowing Smith to take his time in compiling 80 not out with little risk or error. Marnus Labuschagne and Alex Carey were dismissed on the way but Cameron Green’s 20 not out finished the job. There was little to celebrate for England’s bowlers, but Olly Stone getting through 10 economical overs without injury trouble was encouraging after waiting four years since his last appearance in the format. For Australia, Zampa and Cummins took three wickets apiece, but most notable on the day was Ashton Agar, after sitting on the bench through recent T20 engagements.

Agar produced the brilliant direct hit run out of Dawson, nearly took an airborne catch at point when Malan smashed Starc, did take the outfield catches that dismissed Buttler and Malan, produced another gravity-defying feat when he hovered over the boundary line to flick the ball back and turn a Malan six into one run, and bowled the 48th and 50th overs as a left-arm spinner at barely a run a ball. With this series being seen as preparation for next year’s 50-over World Cup, Agar has taken his first chance to stake a claim. Some players may not want these matches, but others certainly do.