There was to be no choke from Australia this time. Nor an acceptance of what seemed an inevitable defeat with England charging towards an unbeaten international season.
Instead Australia produced a stunning comeback on Wednesday night when all seemed lost to seize this 50-over series with one of the great partnerships in one-day cricket history.
Just as England seemed certain to extend their five-year long unbeaten home 50-over series record, with Australia floundering on 73 for five chasing 303, up stepped Glenn Maxwell and Alex Carey to thrillingly turn the tables by adding 212 for the sixth wicket.
Mitchell Starc celebrates after hitting the winning boundary for Australia in series decider
Even then there threatened to be one final twist when both fell after reaching their centuries as England looked to end this extraordinary summer with their most remarkable victory of the lot.
But even though Adil Rashid, who had been put to the sword by the six-hitting power of Maxwell, returned to claim his man and then Carey fell to a quite brilliant diving catch by Mark Wood at third man off Jofra Archer, Australia were not to be denied.
Eoin Morgan entrusted his leg-spinner for the final over, with Australia needing 10 for victory, and saw Mitchell Starc smash the first ball from Rashid for a straight six. Game all but over, Starc sweeping the winning boundary with two balls to spare.
Starc smashed his first ball from Rashid for six and then swept the winning boundary
What drama there was here at Emirates Old Trafford and what a way to finish this unique and compelling season, Australia having the final word in the final one-day international and inflicting defeat on England at the last when all had seemed lost for them.
This decider had begun in the best possible way for Australia when Jason Roy and Joe Root were incredibly dismissed by the first two balls of the match from Starc.
Yet far from beating a hasty retreat, or at least re-grouping, England immediately went on the attack and appeared to have taken control to preserve that unbeaten home 50-over record which went back five years.
First Jonny Bairstow, at something of a crossroads after losing his Test place and being below his best for much of the white-ball season, batted as fluently as he has done all year to make his 10th one-day international century.
Glenn Maxwell and Alex Carey thrillingly turned the tables by adding 212 for the sixth wicket
Then Sam Billings and Chris Woakes backed Bairstow up with half-centuries as England again demonstrated the depth in their batting to reach 302 for seven and leave Australia needing the highest successful 50-over chase in Old Trafford history.
It seemed well beyond them once Eoin Morgan had turned to the off-spin of Root for the first time in this series and saw him bowl David Warner with an absolute beauty worthy of Muttiah Muralitharan at his best with his fifth ball.
It followed the early two-wicket intervention of player of the series Woakes and once Root had claimed a second victim in Mitch Marsh and then saw Sam Billings brilliantly run out Marnus Labuschagne off his bowling there seemed no way back for Australia.
But that was to overlook the ability of Australia’s ‘Big Show’ in the enigmatic figure of Maxwell who, at No7, smashed seven sixes in his 108 off 90 balls. Equally important to Australia was Carey, who hit two sixes himself in his 106.
The pair totally overshadowed the earlier century by Bairstow who had battled back to something like his best with two half-centuries in earlier matches against Australia on this short tour and now showed what an outstanding batsman he remains.
Maxwell hit a blistering 108 from 90 balls and Carey a more measured 106 in run chase
Nothing summed up Bairstow’s supremacy more than a sublime flick for six over the short boundary towards where the missing temporary stand usually provides a party atmosphere here off Pat Cummins that took him to three figures.
This was an important innings for Bairstow, who has dropped out of the Test picture completely and will almost certainly lose his full central-contract, worth around £600,000, when the ECB hand out their Covid-affected deals later this month.
Yet he remains one of England’s most prolific one-day openers of all time and hit two sixes in all here along with 12 fours in his 112 off 126 balls before being bowled by the perfect off-cutter from Cummins.
Bairstow’s hundred clinching six was not the only example of England’s batting audacity. Billings hit Starc for two sixes, the second a scoop over the fine leg boundary, while Woakes, such a key man all season, produced invention worthy of Jos Buttler at his best before Rashid joined in the fun by whipping the pace of Starc for six himself.
Jonny Bairstow had earlier made 112 to help England recover from losing two wickets
It was batting that looked to have sentenced Australia to another decisive defeat until Carey and Maxwell came together and rode their luck to transform the game.
Their record-breaking partnership should have been nipped in the bud when Archer had Carey caught at third man by Rashid when he made just nine only for the wicket to be ruled out by Archer’s first no-ball in one-day international cricket.
England had another chance to expose Australia’s tail when Maxwell was dropped off a thin edge by Buttler trying to slog Rashid on 44. Then Maxwell was saved by the width of the band on the end of his glove when he survived what would have been an lbw decision for Rashid had it struck his forearm a centimetre higher.
They were narrow margins but they proved decisive as Australia, again without Steve Smith whose absence after being struck on the head before the series must now be a concern, gave England their first series defeat in any format this season. It is one that the old enemy richly deserved.