Eoin Morgan’s expert limited-overs batsmanship and the depth of England’s bowling attack carried them to a 15-run victory over Australia in the first NatWest Series match at Lord’s.
Morgan scampered and then bludgeoned his way to an unbeaten 89 from only 63 balls to raise a workmanlike England total to 272-5.
That gave Steven Finn, James Anderson, Tim Bresnan and Stuart Broad enough runs to play with as they chipped away at the opposition with two wickets each to go 1-0 up with four more matches to play – despite the best efforts of Michael Clarke (61) and David Warner (56).
England’s innings was hampered by awkward early conditions, under heavy cloud cover, and it was thanks to openers Ian Bell and Alastair Cook and then Jonathan Trott (54) and especially Morgan that they mustered a defendable total.
The latter served his adopted country particularly well with a supremely-paced contribution containing five fours and four sixes as well as much canny placement and running between the wickets.
After England were put in under floodlights, Bell and Cook dug out a sound start with a stand of 74.
They encountered three rain breaks in the first six overs, and two close calls for Bell – who might have been run out for one had Pat Cummins managed a direct hit, and then rightly reviewed a caught-behind decision to survive again on three.
There was no boundary off the bat until the seventh over – teenage fast bowler Cummins’ first – when Bell mispulled over the wicketkeeper’s head.
It was Bell too who produced the first two fours of any authority, over extra-cover and down the ground from successive balls off Clint McKay. But England’s momentum was checked again when Bell went lbw to the returning Brett Lee – an apparently straightforward decision, although ‘snicko’ later suggested an inside-edge.
Cook then edged Cummins to the wicketkeeper via an attempted drive at a wide one – and when Ravi Bopara nicked the first ball of McKay’s second spell to Clarke at slip, England’s specialist batting resources were in danger of dwindling.
Trott had escaped a run out on 15, when Cummins’s aim was off again, and England needed him and Morgan to provide some substance.
They did so in a partnership of 68, which saw Trott past a hard-working 50 from 65 balls.
It was a blow to England when the No 3 yorked himself at the start of Xavier Doherty’s final spell, from the first ball of the last 10 overs.
But Morgan engineered an impressive late charge in company with Craig Kieswetter, including two consecutive sixes over wide long-on off Lee, in the highest stand of the innings.
On a fair pitch, it was clear England would need to get to the Australia tail in good time to contain the run chase.
Finn set the tone early when he saw off the dangerous Shane Watson caught-behind via an England review which overturned Aleem Dar’s initial not out verdict after the ball apparently slid over the face of the bat as the opener tried to dab a cut.
It was Anderson, though, who put the brakes on most effectively by taking two wickets in three balls, to offset an economy rate of almost six an over in his first two spells.
After a watchful start, the combative Warner had rattled past his half-century in 57 balls – with five fours and a six.
But Anderson added his wicket, well-caught by a diving Kieswetter from an edged drive, to that of George Bailey – who chopped on to a delivery which held its line up the slope to end a second-wicket stand of 76.
Clarke and David Hussey therefore had to start again without a run between them.
Hussey deflected a Finn bouncer on to his helmet and then down on to his bails, and Steven Smith had still yet to convince when he hung his bat out to edge Bresnan behind.
The Yorkshireman should already have had Clarke for only 16, dropping a routine return catch. But from 147-5, it was hard to see even the Australia captain turning the match back his team’s way.
So it proved, despite a half-century stand with Matthew Wade and a 59-ball 50 from Clarke completed with a six high over mid-wicket off Graeme Swann.
Once Wade sacrificed himself, after a run-out a mix-up, and then Bresnan had Clarke lbw with an inswinging full-toss the outcome was no longer in serious doubt.
“I certainly think it helped that early on those guys did well not to lose wickets when the conditions were tough, but our bowlers did well towards the end and got the swing, which is a massive attribute for our team,” said Morgan.
“I thought our score was about par, but we bowled really well on a wicket that was slower than expected. It was hard to get it in.
“I think we were quite comfortable but the only worry was that the wicket got a lot better with the sun on it, but the control the guys have on the team is fantastic.”
Afterwards, Cook was a grateful captain, particularly regarding his side’s batting performance and, inparticular, Morgan.
“To score at a strike rate of 130 or 140 is an incredible innings, to get us up to a really competitive score,” he said.
“Clearly, it was hard work to start with at the top.
“The ball was nipping around a bit, but what was pleasing is that we didn’t panic as a batting line-up.
“We kept wickets in hand, and we all know at Lord’s you can make up (time), especially with people like Eoin to come in. It worked well.
“To have wickets in hand is part of our gameplan, and the conditions didn’t allow us to do much else for the first 20 odd overs.
“I don’t think you could have played much differently.
“To get a good start like we did – it might have been a bit slow – meant we certainly laid the groundwork for someone like ‘Morgs’ to come in and do what he did.”
A disappointed Clarke added: “They outplayed us today in all facets.
“They batted better, didn’t lose wickets at crucial times - and their death bowling and powerplay bowling was very good.
“We probably didn’t execute our skills at the death as well as we could have.”