In only his second ODI, in February 2013 against West Indies, Faulkner put up a match-winning century stand with George Bailey after Australia was 98 for 6. In the very next game, he picked up four wickets including that of Chris Gayle. In Mohali last year, against India, he made an unbeaten 64 as Australia won by four wickets, smashing Ishant Sharma for 30 in one over along the way, and then he scored his maiden century and nearly won the match against India in Bangalore as he and Clint McKay built a ninth-wicket stand of 115 runs.
That day, the pair could not pull the heist, but on Friday, they did. And Faulkner was again the dominant partner, by far. Chasing 301, Australia was 244 for 9 at the start of the 44th over. The next 57 runs came in just 33 balls as Australia won with three balls to spare, taking a 2-0 lead in the five-match series. Faulkner was unbeaten on 69 in 47 balls, while McKay faced nine balls, scoring two runs.
Having farmed the strike successfully for a majority of the partnership, Faulkner hit Ben Stokes for consecutive sixes in the penultimate over. Luck was with Faulkner as Joe Root held on to one of his big hits but could not control his balance and remain inside the boundary line. Faulkner finished with five sixes and three fours in an innings that will surely be high up on the list when broadcasters need to telecast highlight packages.
Going into the final over, Australia needed 12 with Faulkner facing Tim Bresnan. Faulkner did the job his way – three fours in the first three balls. First, he guided a slower bouncer over the wicketkeeper’s head, then pulled one over midwicket and finally drove one through the covers. And the celebrations began.
That Australia managed to set it up for Faulkner was because of the sixth-wicket stand of 80 runs between Glenn Maxwell and Brad Haddin.
Prior to that, Australia had lost five wickets for 120. Chris Jordan sent back Aaron Finch caught at mid off by Gary Balance and David Warner caught and bowled, Michael Clarke and Shaun Marsh, who made a classy 55, became Root’s victims and George Bailey was lbw off Boyd Rankin.
The flurry of wickets did not stop Maxwell and Haddin from playing their strokes. Maxwell, in particular, was in an aggressive mood and that unsettled the England bowlers. The highlight of their 67-ball stand came in Root’s eighth over when Maxwell used the reverse sweep to good effect for three consecutive boundaries.
It shifted the momentum in Australia’s favour but in a space of four balls both fell to Bresnan. Haddin was first done in by bounce and was caught at mid off and Maxwell then pulled a short delivery to Ravi Bopara at midwicket.
Nathan Coulter-Nile was lbw, Mitchell Johnson was caught behind and just when England would have started to smell victory, the script changed dramatically.
The stunning chase meant that Eoin Morgan’s attractive 106 was overshadowed. After electing to bat, England started steadily with an opening wicket stand of 57 runs between Alastair Cook and Ian Bell before losing three wickets in a space of six overs. Cook was caught and bowled by Maxwell and Ballance was stumped off the same bowler. Between those, Johnson had Root out lbw.
Morgan could have been the fourth wicket to fall when he was on one when Maxwell caught him at midwicket off Clarke, but with only four fielders inside the inner circle, it was deemed a no-ball and Morgan ensured that Australia paid for the silly mistake.
He put his head down and, along with Bell, went about steadying the innings. Their partnership fetched England 61 runs. Some ordinary fielding from Australia, who missed at least two simple run out chances, also went in England’s favour.
A smart bit of fielding from Clarke ran Bell out for 68, Ravi Bopara chipped an easy catch to midwicket off Faulkner as England was reduced to 178 for 5 with 13 overs remaining.
But Coulter-Nile dropped a simple caught and bowled chance when Jos Buttler was on 27, and Morgan and Buttler then put on 113 runs in 68 balls, Morgan clearly the enforcer. He scored his last 56 runs in just 29 balls and was particularly severe on Faulkner, whom he took for 43 runs in 27 balls.
Little would Morgan have known then that it would be Faulkner and not he that would play the defining innings of the match.