England’s reign at the top of the T20 rankings lasted a little over 48 hours as Australia won the third and final match in Southampton – though not before they threatened to repeat their first-game meltdown.
After going top of the world on Sunday evening, England had visions of a 3-0 whitewash that would have allowed them to begin the one-day series on Friday in Manchester with a spring in their step.
Instead, a batting line-up without Jos Buttler and Eoin Morgan made a faltering 145 for six, before the Australians recovered from a mid-innings wobble against Adil Rashid to win with five wickets and three balls to spare.
Mitch Marsh made a sharp 39 not out to complete the chase with three balls remaining
Had England’s fielding been up to the mark, they might have forced victory on a pitch losing life after being used for the third game in a row.
But Jonny Bairstow put down a skyer from Aaron Finch, despite being armed with the gloves, and Dawid Malan dropped Mitchell Marsh at slip off the leg-spin of Joe Denly.
That second drop proved crucial. Picked for the first time in the series, Marsh had walked out at 87 for four after Rashid removed Glenn Maxwell, who fluffed a reverse sweep, and Finch, defeated by a gorgeous googly, in the same over.
And it was 100 for five when Rashid snaffled Steve Smith for three, collecting a return catch off the leading edge from the final ball of his four-over spell.
Matthew Wade and Aaron Finch hammered Jofra Archer's first over for 16 in a fast start
At that point, the tourists were heading for a carbon copy of Friday’s series opener, when they messed up a simple chase. But Marsh eased nerves by pulling Mark Wood for six, and Australia were soon back on top of the rankings. Whether they will still be there come the T20 World Cup in India next year is another matter.
It was a funny kind of top-of-the-table clash. England were without their captain and vice-captain, not to mention Jason Roy and Ben Stokes, while Australia left out David Warner, wicketkeeper Alex Carey and fast bowler Pat Cummins.
For Moeen Ali, it was a sobering introduction to international captaincy. He had already taken charge in the field because of another injury to Morgan when Ireland chased down 329 here last month. Now, it was his misfortune to lead a team that were too sloppy, too often.