Glenn Maxwell, so important with the ball earlier in the evening, was caught at cover for one from the final ball of Adil Rashid’s spell, in the same over when Smith departed.
This was before David Warner – who top-scored with 58 from 47 balls – was bowled by Jofra Archer after the ball deflected off his pad when making room outside the off-stump. It was the same fate for Alex Carey when on one, sorted out for sheer pace by Mark Wood. Suddenly, Australia’s decision to play just six specialist batsmen was to be tested.
In at seven, Ashton Agar – another spinner who contributed to the earlier squeeze on England – was run out by Jordon from the final delivery of the penultimate over, by which time the game control had well and truly slipped from Finch’s side.
Stoinis, who finished on 23 not out from 18 balls, did hit Tom Curran over extra cover for six from the second ball of the last over, but four swings and misses either side of that delivery from the recalled right-hander meant that he had missed his chance. Four runs were needed from the final ball to tie the game or a six to win and neither looked likely.
Earlier, a disciplined performance with the ball, supported by an accomplished evening in the field fielding and some astute captaincy, underpinned Australia’s effort to restrict England to 7-162.
Initially, Jos Buttler got the hosts off to a flier, reaching 29 inside three overs, at one stage launching Agar back over his head and into the hotel where the players are staying. But it would be the West Australian who had the last laugh when the England hitter caught at deep midwicket for 44 in the 8th over, making the score 2-64. He picked up a second wicket ten runs later, the dangerous trickster Tom Banton, who miscued a lofted drive over cover, taken safely by the captain running back with the flight.
Straight away, it was Finch in the game again, swinging the changes and turning the screws. With the pitch a touch less pacy than expected, he brought Glenn Maxwell into the attack in the 12th over and it brought an immediate reward, the off-spinner landing the big fish of England skipper Eoin Morgan, who skied in the direction of Steve Smith running in from long-on.
When Moeen Ali became the Victorian’s second, top-edging a reverse sweep, the innings was limping 5-108. But Dawid Malan, watching the wickets fall having walked in after Pat Cummins dismissed Jonny Bairstow in the fourth over, kept his cool and found the rope often enough to keep the show on the road. He passed 50 from 37 balls before pumping Adam Zampa for consecutive sixes. But another fine take from Smith, from the bowling of Kane Richardson in the penultimate over, removed the left-hander for 66.
It seemed that a target of 163 would be insufficient unless Australia lost early wickets – and they didn’t, getting through their power play unscathed with David Warner and Finch adding 55 – the latter bringing up his 2000th T20 international run in the process. That the left-hander’s 37-ball half-century only included four boundaries told the story – he was busy throughout, building the base. Since he and Finch returned to the top of the list in this format last October, they’ve compiled 640 runs together in ten innings.
“We managed to not hit too many boundaries through the middle and towards the end they bowled exceptionally well,” Warner said after the loss. “We just have to try to be a little bit smarter and work out how we’re going to hit our boundaries. That’s the tough thing at the moment. We have to try to keep rotating the strike and keep finding the boundary in those middle overs.”
The price they pay for losing their nerve at the crucial period of play is handing the opening match of the tour to their rivals. Stoinis’ face said it all when walking from the field: this really was quite the botching. The three-game series continues on Sunday at the same Southampton venue before concluding on Tuesday. It will be followed by three one-day internationals in Manchester.