Big Picture

Blink and you miss it in the frantic world of T20. Opportunity has knocked twice for Australia in this series - with a thumping great battering ram in the series opener on Friday, and with a polite rap of enquiry in the closing moments two days later. And twice England have peered over the ramparts and drawn up the drawbridge, to take a 2-0 series lead with one to play, and leave their opponents somewhat non-plussed in their first competitive outing since March.

But this third outing, however, is a dead rubber with more riding on it than might ordinarily be the case. Next month's T20 World Cup may be on the back burner, and so this is not the opportunity for fine-tuning for which it had originally been earmarked, but the ancient annals of Anglo-Australian rivalry love a chance for some bragging rights to be put up for grabs.

And so it will prove on Tuesday, where England know they will not be satisfied simply to leave with the series trophy in their grasp. The World No.1 ranking is the true objective for Eoin Morgan's men, an accolade which passed temporarily to them after their six-wicket win on Sunday, but which will be snatched back by Australia if they can end their series on a high.

It may be a broadly meaningless bauble controlled by a mysterious ICC algorithm, but the allure of being top dogs is more than merely cosmetic for the hosts. Just as was the case in their four-year journey to becoming the 50-over World Champions, the No.1 spot was a rite of passage that Morgan, and the then-coach Trevor Bayliss, used almost as a stress test.

England, they realised, needed to know the full texture of expectation, for until they had learned what it meant to be a team with a target on their back, they could not be ready for the crunch moments that, sure enough, would await them come the biggest stage of all.

So this contest is sure to matter, in the same way that England's whitewash-sealing win at Old Trafford in 2018 mattered. Right up until the moment that Jos Buttler sealed an excruciating one-wicket win with a brilliant unbeaten 110, Australia had looked set to secure a consolation victory that would have been out of kilter with the fare that had gone before it.

Buttler, however, will not be present for this contest. He has been granted leave to visit his family, having excelled in the opening two games, and Morgan too cannot be a complete shoo-in either, having suffered a very awkward-looking finger dislocation in the field on Sunday - not that it prevented him from batting, albeit briefly, in the run-chase.

They may be a huge pair of personalities to lose from their starting line-up, but England will not mind too much if they are forced to dig a touch deeper and rely on less prominent members of their line-up to front up with the crucial contributions. For as Australia's own struggles to find a serviceable middle order have shown, sometimes the hardest part of T20 squad-building is giving meaningful opportunities to the men outside of the prime positions.

If, in the circumstances, the No.1 ranking has to be delivered by the likes of Tom Banton, Sam Billings (and of course the ubiquitous Dawid Malan), then England will consider this series a job very well done. Especially as you can be sure, in spite of the errors that have derailed them up to this point, Australia will not be relinquishing their hold without a fight.

Form guide

(last five completed matches)

England WWLWW
Australia LLWLW

In the spotlight

There's no escaping the furious case for retention that Dawid Malan is currently making. Like Jonny Bairstow's full-frontal assault on England's established ODI line-up three years ago, there are only so many times you can ask a player to prove himself before, well, he has proved himself. And right now, with 661 runs at 50.84 in his 15 T20I appearances, including seven fifties and a 48-ball hundred, Malan is producing the sorts of numbers that stop arguments in their tracks. Yes, he does have a habit of pootling along to a run-a-ball 10 before finding his range in any given innings, but on balance, the rewards from that early lack of risk are worth factoring in. No-one complained too loudly when Chris Gayle took the scenic route to destruction, did they?

On the face of it, Aaron Finch has done little wrong in his two innings to date. With a total of 86 runs from 65 balls, the skipper is the obvious form man in the Aussie ranks, and the likeliest rock of resistance as they seek the consolation victory that will defend their No.1 status. And yet, while the timing of his strokes gives no cause for complaint, the timing of his dismissals has twice had a discombobulating effect on the rest of Australia's batting. On each occasion he's fallen just after the halfway mark of the innings, and such is the frailty in that under-tested middle order, it's offered England's bowlers priceless traction. And yet, perhaps Finch's efforts have merely been paling compared to the onslaughts of his counterpart. Buttler's efforts so far have been transcendent, but he won't be here this time around. More of the same may yet be sufficient.

Team news

Buttler's absence creates a wave of welcome upheaval in England's ranks, given how many top-order batsman are competing for so few spots. Malan's No.3 berth would appear to be locked in for the time being, so Tom Banton is the obvious man to resume his opener's role alongside Jonny Bairstow. Sam Billings is the first-choice beneficiary from the hole that creates in the middle order. It remains to be seen whether Eoin Morgan bows to the finger that he dislocated in the second match - notwithstanding the chance to go to No.1, it might be prudent. Moeen Ali could yet be captain, Sam Curran and Joe Denly could yet get recalls.

England (possible) 1 Tom Banton, 2 Jonny Bairstow (wk), 3 Dawid Malan, 4 Sam Billings, 5 Moeen Ali (capt), 6 Sam Curran / Joe Denly, 7 Tom Curran, 8 Chris Jordan, 9 Adil Rashid, 10 Jofra Archer, 11 Mark Wood

If Australia could splice their lower-order batting from the second match to their top-order saunter in the first, they be very handily placed in this series. As it is, they're 2-0 down and with no obvious areas in which to improve their batting fortunes. Their top four of Warner, Finch, Smith and Maxwell is surely locked in, while Marcus Stoinis's 35 on Sunday was his highest T20I score, so this would be an odd moment for the selectors to lose faith in what he can offer. Alex Carey, by contrast, has scored three runs from 12 balls in the series so far, but of the men on the bench, Matthew Wade hasn't kept wicket for three years, while Josh Philippe is perhaps a touch too raw at this stage. The likelier change is a rotation in the fast-bowling department, with Josh Hazlewood perhaps getting an outing before the ODIs.

Australia (probable) 1 David Warner, 2 Aaron Finch (capt), 3 Steven Smith, 4 Glenn Maxwell, 5 Marcus Stoinis, 6 Alex Carey (wk), 7 Ashton Agar, 8 Pat Cummins, 9 Mitchell Starc, 10 Kane Richardson / Josh Hazlewood, 11 Adam Zampa

Pitch and conditions

The same surface will be used for the third match running, which Malan suggested was partly in anticipation of low, spinning conditions in Asia this winter - the IPL as much as the tour of India, in the cases of players on both sides. The absent Buttler transcended those conditions in both games, but besides him, fluent run-scoring has been hard to come by. The weather is set to be dry, and for a day-night game in September, that's all you can ask for.

Stats and Trivia

  • Chris Jordan needs two wickets to draw level with Broad on 65 T20I wickets, the most for England in the format.

  • Since 2017, Australia have won just one of their last 11 away white-ball fixtures against England, a run that includes eight ODIs and three T20Is. That victory came in the World Cup group match at Lord's last year.

Quotes

"We certainly take a lot of pride on being the No.1-ranked team, it's a great feeling, it's nice walking out knowing that. That will spur us on but really we just want to win whatever game is in front of us and that's what contributes to being No. 1."
Ashton Agar is still fighting for that ranking as he challenges England to go to Southampton and get something

"The man that matters is Eoin Morgan, and if he's happy with the way I'm approaching it, then that's good enough for me at the moment. That doesn't mean I'm not trying to improve on that - I always want to improve, so I can keep pushing a case to be in the starting XI."."
Dawid Malan knows there's always room for improvement despite his remarkable T20I record