Just when England's grim, debilitating tour looked as though it would have a moment of relief James Faulkner carried Australia to a heart-stopping one-wicket victory at the Gabba with three balls to spare
Just when England's grim, debilitating tour looked as though it would have a moment of relief, James Faulkner carried Australia to a heart-stopping one-wicket victory at the Gabba with three balls to spare. Left with No. 11 Clint McKay for company and 57 runs still needed, Faulkner calmly turned down singles and backed himself to find the required boundaries, which he did with regularity as he knocked off the final 25 needed in seven deliveries.
He hit five sixes in total, including two in the penultimate over off Ben Stokes (who Faulkner hit for all his sixes), then closed out the match with three consecutive boundaries in the final over from Tim Bresnan to leave England shattered and now facing the prospect of another whitewash. Bresnan appeared to have calmed England nerves with two wickets in the 35th over - Brad Haddin taken at mid-off and Glenn Maxwell swinging to midwicket - but he could not defend 12 when it came to the crunch. That Australia still had three balls only added to the incredulity of it all.
It was a reprisal of Faulkner's heroics in India, when he hit 64 off 29 balls to win the match in Mohali and then struck a hundred from No. 7 - Australia's fastest ever - in a failed chase in Bangalore. His unbeaten 69 here was the third-highest score by a No. 9 in ODIs and his stand with McKay was the second-highest tenth-wicket partnership to win a match.
Australia were in touch with the asking rate for a large proportion of the innings but no one could build the substantial score to give them an anchor. The chase was hit immediately when Aaron Finch, the century-maker at the MCG, drove on the up to mid-off where Gary Ballance this time held the catch, one-handed above his head. However, Chris Jordan's grab, in his follow through, to remove David Warner was even more spectacular and meant that the two batsmen who could have very quickly made a target of 301 look much smaller were back in the pavilion.
Shaun Marsh timed the ball beautifully in his fifty and Maxwell, who hit three consecutive reverse sweeps for four off Joe Root, hammered 54 off 39 balls, sparking Australia's second surge, but wickets were seemingly falling with too great a frequency. No one told Faulkner.
Alastair Cook look shattered afterwards, having less than an hour earlier been within touching distance of a win and a level series. But the pendulum started to swing, even though Australia were nine down, when they got the requirement to 30 off 18 balls. When a team is on a losing streak it is easy to let doubts enter the mind and with each subsequent boundary clubbed by Faulkner the England players started fearing the worse.
Still, a bowler of Bresnan's experience had an even chance of success in that final over, only to see his first delivery top-edged over the keeper then his second pulled through midwicket. The next flew past a diving extra cover, who stayed on the ground as the Australians sprinted on in celebration. England's bowling tactics will be dissected: why did Stokes bowl ahead of Jordan? Could Ravi Bopara have been entrusted with more, having bowled five overs for 19? And can England rely on Boyd Rankin, who had to leave the field with a tight hamstring? At the moment, though, Australia are playing with the confidence that anything is achievable.
They were not at their best for much of this game and, for the first time this season, were rattled while Eoin Morgan, with his sixth one-day international hundred and a brilliant piece of acceleration that will now be lost amid the result, and Jos Buttler added 117 in 11 overs in the most uplifting England batting of the tour. The innings had been drifting nowhere on 5 for 178 but Morgan played with the verve of someone not burdened by previous failures.
He required just 24 balls for his second fifty, hitting five sixes in that period and six overall (including three off consecutive deliveries). He reached his hundred from 94 balls with a ramp over the keeper and celebrated in unusually flamboyant fashion although it was a worrying sight, on top of all England's other woes, when he had to leave the field during the Australia innings with a strained calf.
The full force of Morgan's striking began in the 43rd over when he hammered Mitchell Johnson for a flat six over cover. Another six, a bottom-handed flick over midwicket off Faulkner, landed in the English fancy dress section of the crowd.
Morgan's tactical awareness was on display much earlier in his innings. When he had 1, Morgan spotted that Michael Clarke - who was also the bowler at the time - had one too many fielders outside the ring and took the opportunity for what, effectively, was a free hit. He was caught at deep midwicket, but immediately signalled to the umpire Kumar Dharmasena to check the field and the no-ball was duly called. For a long time it looked like England's fortunes had turned only for them to hit with another sickening blow.