England’s summer ended with their bubble burst as sparkling centuries from Glenn Maxwell and Alex Carey helped Australia rediscover their mojo in the chase to claim a nail-biting three-wicket victory and a 2-1 one-day international series win.
It was the result most would have predicted when Mitchell Starc knocked over Jason Roy and Joe Root with the first two deliveries of the day, and Eoin Morgan strolled out to the middle to face a hat-trick ball so soon after winning the toss.
Yet with England rallying to 302 for seven thanks to Jonny Bairstow’s 10th ODI century, and Australia slipping to 73 for five in reply, it needed Maxwell’s 108 from 90 balls and Carey’s 106 from 114 to end a five-year unbeaten record in home 50-over series for the world champions.
Australia will draw huge satisfaction from the win, not just for producing it without Steve Smith – absent again after his blow to the head in the nets six days ago – but having seen two previous run chases go awry on this six-match white-ball tour.
And they did so following a rocky start to their pursuit under lights, with Chris Woakes following a rapid-fire unbeaten 53 with the bat by removing Aaron Finch lbw and Marcus Stoinis caught at midwicket in a fine new‑ball spell.
Things then got worse for the tourists when the part-time spin of Root removed David Warner and Mitch Marsh in the space of six balls – the former bowled by a beauty – and Sam Billings ran out Marnus Labuschagne from cover.
But over the course of the next 31 overs Australia rallied as a sixth-wicket stand of 212 between Maxwell and Carey drove England to distraction, the former clearing a mere 66-yard boundary to one side of the ground seven times.
Both men made the most of being afforded lives – Carey caught off a no-ball on nine when Jofra Archer over-stepped, Maxwell dropped by Jos Buttler on 44 when Adil Rashid teased a thin edge – yet they handled the growing pressure superbly.
Neither was there to see their side over the line but when Starc bookended his remarkable day by sweeping the winning runs off Rashid with two balls to spare, the roars from the Australia dressing room echoed around Old Trafford.
This defeat, one that means England’s men finish this bizarre international season with four series wins, one draw and a defeat, came despite the flashing blade of Bairstow delivering 112 from 126 deliveries, with 12 fours and two sixes.
Like Maxwell later on, Bairstow enjoyed the short square boundary to one side that, allied with an unusual north-easterly blowing across Old Trafford, made bowling from the James Anderson End in particular a challenge all day.
That said, Starc did not seem to mind these conditions – initially at least – when he inflicted England’s worst start to an innings in their 752 ODIs by having Roy caught at backward point and trapping Root with a masterful inswinger.
England’s white-ball revolution began five years ago, against New Zealand at Edgbaston, with Roy out first ball in similar fashion and, as was the case back then, they responded here by going on the offensive. Morgan was the one to light the fuse, denying Starc his hat-trick before crunching a four through cover to begin a partnership of 67 with Bairstow in the powerplay.
Adam Zampa’s introduction helped stem the bleeding as both Morgan (23) and Jos Buttler (eight) picked out catchers in the ring. But a sprightly 57 from Sam Billings – including one pulled six off Pat Cummins that nearly left the bubble entirely – provided the ideal support for Bairstow in a 114‑run partnership.
Bairstow has slightly struggled for rhythm this summer but on the truest surface of the series he was back to his bullying best, needing 48 balls for his half-century and easing down a touch to reach three-figures off 116 when, with a whip of the wrists, he lifted a 90mph delivery from Cummins over the short side for six.
Zampa eventually removed Billings via a top-edged sweep, becoming the first Australian spinner to take 10 wickets in an ODI series, and when a smart off-cutter from Cummins bowled Bairstow at the start of the 41st over, England sat 220 for six and once again needed the lower order to fire.
Woakes was the standout here, ensuring a record chase on the ground would be required with some inventive shots – including one remarkable deft four through the vacant slip area – that added 82 in the last 10 overs of England’s innings.
Starc in particular took some punishment during this late salvo, ending with figures of three for 74 after the removal of Tom Curran. But by the end of this epic match, the left-armer’s frown was turned upside down.