Woakes holds his nerve
England kept their grip over Australia, but only just, as debutant Chris Woakes’ late cameo led them to the narrowest of victories in a compelling first Twenty20 international at the Adelaide Oval.
After the tourists dominated the Test series, taking the last two matches, the much-changed sides were today toe-to-toe in a day/night contest that went to the wire.
Having chosen to bat first, the hosts could only muster 157 for four in the face of a disciplined bowling and fielding display, in keeping with England’s victorious Ashes campaign.
Only Shane Watson’s burgeoning half-century seriously threatened to yield a substantial total but, like in the Test series, he could not take advantage of his start.
Ajmal Shahzad, a spectator during the Ashes, was England’s outstanding bowler and only Watson’s sixes from Graeme Swann’s three opening deliveries dented their bowling figures.
Paul Collingwood’s side made a flying start to their chase but the regular loss of wickets undermined hopes of an international record eighth consecutive T20 victory.
Eoin Morgan’s well-paced innings kept the World Twenty20 winners on course until Watson’s four swift breakthroughs left England needing four from five balls with one wicket left.
However, Woakes stepped up to the plate and, with the scores tied, chipped Watson over midwicket - part of a packed infield - from the final delivery of the match.
England, without the injured Craig Kieswetter and Stuart Broad plus James Anderson, who is being rested, made four changes from their previous T20 - versus Pakistan at Cardiff in early September.
Ian Bell played his first T20 international since June 2008 and Kevin Pietersen was back after being left out against Pakistan. Woakes made his senior international debut and fellow seamer Shahzad returned.
Australia, for whom batsman Aaron Finch made his bow, were led by Cameron White for the first time following Michael Clarke’s retirement from T20 internationals last week.
Both sides wore black armbands, observed a minute's silence and agreed to donate part of their match fees to the Queensland Premier Flood Relief appeal in light of the natural disaster that has devestated parts of the north-eastern state.
The tourists conceded only six from the first two overs but David Warner cover-drove consecutive fours off Woakes in the third.
Watson, adopting Clarke’s opening spot, twice found the ropes off Tim Bresnan and quickly accelerated as he laid into Swann between long-on and deep midwicket.
A straight four later in the over took him to 50 from 27 deliveries but a quicker Michael Yardy ball beat his attempted cut on 59.
Shahzad’s continued economy quietened a packed house and Yardy benefited when Warner holed out to Shahzad on the midwicket rope for 30.
Swann and Woakes squeezed Australia further, combining for three overs without a boundary, and the pressure created again told when White miscued Woakes’ final delivery to Pietersen at wide mid-on.
David Hussey broke the shackles by pulling Bresnan over square-leg for six but, two balls later, the seamer yorked him for 28.
The hosts could not find the rope in Yardy and Bresnan’s final overs and managed just one four off Shahzad in the last, when Yardy also spilled Finch at point.
Finch and Steven Smith finished unbeaten on 15 but Australia’s total looked eminently attainable.
Bell punished Steve O’Keefe’s dreadful spill at square-leg from the innings’ first delivery by taking Shaun Tait’s third, fourth and fifth balls for four.
Having driven Brett Lee’s opening delivery for a boundary, Steven Davies perished attempting an immediate repeat as White held on at cover.
Bell was again reprieved off Tait, this time a harder chance to Warner at gully, and he followed up with an uppercut for six.
His luck ran out on 27 in Mitchell Johnson’s first over when he located Smith’s safe hands at cover.
Pietersen, who had picked up early boundaries, lifted O’Keefe’s first two balls for four and six. However, he fell for 25 to the left-arm spinner’s next delivery with Hussey taking a leaping catch at mid-on.
Despite the early losses, England took 64 from the six powerplay overs - to Australia’s 41 - before Collingwood and Morgan consolidated.
Having found his range, Morgan climbed into Lee with a maximum high over midwicket and followed up with four over mid-off.
Collingwood, attempting to reverse-sweep Hussey’s occasional spin, top-edged to wicketkeeper Tim Paine and Luke Wright soon went leg before to Tait, walking across his stumps.
Bresnan drove his first ball for four and Morgan continued on his merry way, taking consecutive boundaries off Hussey.
However, Watson turned the game with two in two. Morgan located Hussey at short cover on 43 and Yardy steered a rising delivery behind.
Woakes, in ahead of more senior colleagues, dragged Tait over midwicket for six but Bresnan lofted Watson to Lee, running in from the cover boundary.
Woakes punished Lee’s full toss and, despite Swann’s ugly swipe gifting Watson his fourth scalp, the 21-year-old held his nerve to end unbeaten on 19.
Watson’s outstanding figures of 4-15 from four overs were little consolation to him, but Australia could at least reflect on a much-improved display ahead of the second and final T20 in Melbourne on Friday.