|Third Twenty20 international, Ageas Bowl|
|England 145-6 (20 overs): Bairstow 55 (44), Zampa 2-34|
|Australia 146-5 (19.3 overs): M Marsh 39* (36), Finch 39 (26), Rashid 3-21|
|Australia won by five wickets, England won series 2-1|
Australia inched past a sloppy England with three balls to spare to claim a consolation victory in the final match of the Twenty20 series at the Ageas Bowl.
Chasing 146, the tourists needed 60 from 60 balls with eight wickets in hand, only to tease a repeat of their capitulation in the series opener.
They lost three wickets for 14 runs, all to the excellent Adil Rashid, before Mitchell Marsh restored calm with 39 not out to give Australia a five-wicket win.
England did themselves no favours by dropping three catches and making numerous ground-fielding errors, while earlier a batting line-up missing Jos Buttler and Eoin Morgan was restricted to 145-6 by some relentless Australia bowling.
Jonny Bairstow made 55 from 44 balls and stand-in captain Moeen Ali and Joe Denly played cameos, but England were never fluent against an attack spearheaded by Mitchell Starc.
England win the series 2-1, although they passed up the chance to replace Australia at the top of the International Cricket Council rankings and record their first 3-0 whitewash in a home T20 series.
This match was the last bio-secure, behind-closed-doors fixture to be played in Southampton this summer, with these sides now moving to Emirates Old Trafford for three one-day internationals, the first of which is on Friday.
Second-string England second best
Not only was the usually powerful England batting missing the injured Morgan and rested Buttler, but also Jason Roy and Ben Stokes, not to mention the ostracised Alex Hales.
Without them, the hosts never got going on a surface being used for the third time. This was England’s slowest start to an innings since the T20 World Cup in 2016.
That was mainly because of the control of length of Starc, bowling in excess of 90mph, and his recalled new-ball partner Josh Hazlewood. Fellow pace bowler Kane Richardson and spinners Adam Zampa and Ashton Agar ensured there was no weak link in the Australia attack.
Slashing and hacking, Bairstow had only nine from 16 balls, but when he did find the groove he scored 44 from his next 25, including three sixes off the spinners.
However, a top edge off Agar was well held by the bowler, who ran to the edge of the 30-yard circle to take the catch at mid-wicket.
Moeen, the 93rd man to captain England in any form of cricket, hit a flowing straight six off leg-spinner Zampa before sweeping the same bowler to deep mid-wicket, where Steve Smith took a wonderful boundary catch that required him to throw the ball up and hold it again after his heel had been millimetres from the rope.
Denly edged and inside-edged three successive fours off Richardson, but that was the closest England came to late acceleration.
Australia come through another wobble
Because of the coronavirus pandemic, Australia had not played any cricket before this series since March and it showed in the first two matches. They surrendered the first from a winning position and wilted at the end of the second.
They were superb for the majority of this match, particularly their bowling and catching, but again threatened to throw it away after a rapid start to their chase.
Matthew Wade, Aaron Finch and Marcus Stoinis had Australia in control, Finch benefitting from the first and worst of England’s drops, when keeper Bairstow failed to get a glove on a skied top edge off Rashid.
Leg-spinner Rashid, though, was still able to rattle the tourists, first by having Glenn Maxwell reverse-sweep to short third man, then bowling Finch with a magical googly and finally persuading Smith to present a tame return catch.
Marsh, playing for the first time in the series, was the beneficiary of the other two drops, off edges from Denly and Rashid respectively. Both were put down by Dawid Malan at slip, one made harder because of a deflection off Bairstow.
Amid rising tension, the equation moved out to 34 from 30 deliveries before Marsh nailed a six and a four from a Mark Wood over to put Australia back in charge.
With Agar providing able support, Australia ultimately only needed a single off the final over, which Marsh scrambled from Chris Jordan’s third delivery.
‘Fielding cost us the game’ – what they said
England captain Moeen Ali on BBC Test Match Special: “We were short with the bat. We bowled pretty well but fielded poor and that cost us the game.
“You can’t afford to drop three catches and the misfields. If we had taken our chances I’m pretty confident we would have won the game.
“When you are missing three or four main players – world-class players – it makes a big difference. I learned a lot.
“He (Adil Rashid) is an amazing bowler. He is our magician. He can win you games when you don’t score many runs. He was amazing tonight.”
Australia captain Aaron Finch on TMS: “We made a conscious effort to be more aggressive in the powerplay. We knew the spinners would have an impact. It was a plan that paid off.
“We chased in similar style to Friday with a wobble, but the way Mitchell Marsh and Ashton Agar finished it off was brilliant.”
Former England spinner Phil Tufnell: “England are in great shape for the T20 World Cup. England have every chance of winning it. The white-ball game is very rosy.”