Travis Head hit 96 to guide Australia to a three-wicket win in the fourth one-day international as a terrible start cost England in Adelaide.
The tourists fell to 8-5 in swinging conditions, before a superb 78 from Chris Woakes saw them recover to post 196 all out, Pat Cummins taking 4-24.
Australia wobbled at times in reply, but the recalled Head proved a steady presence after a skittish start.
He fell short of a ton but had done enough to ensure his side edged home.
Eoin Morgan’s England team had already secured the five-match series with victory in Sydney and now lead 3-1, with the final ODI in Perth on Sunday.
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England fall to 8-5
England effectively lost the game thanks to a woeful start to their innings, falling to 8-5 in just the seventh over. Here is how it unfolded:
- 0-1 – Roy c Smith b Hazlewood 0 (0.2 overs): The opener drives firmly at a full, swinging delivery and slices it straight to backward point.
- 4-2 – Hales b Cummins 3 (3.2 overs): A tentative prod at a ball nipping back in, deflecting off the pad and onto the stumps.
- 4-3 – Bairstow c Paine b Hazlewood 0 (4.2 overs): A flashy cover drive but enough movement away to catch the edge through to the keeper.
- 6-4 – Root c Hazlewood b Cummins 0 (5.3 overs): Taking on the short ball but hooking it straight to deep fine leg.
- 8-5 – Buttler c Paine b Hazlewood 0 (6.2 overs): Not much batsman fault here – a sublime delivery moves late and kisses the outside edge. Four ducks in five wickets for England.
Risk and reward
England’s one-day rejuvenation over the past three years has been built around talented batsman backing themselves to play aggressively throughout their innings.
That approach is successful more often than not. Since the 2015 World Cup, England have batted first in 29 matches, making 300 or more 19 times, while being bowled out for under 250 on six occasions.
They do have the capacity for spectacular failure. England slumped to 138 all out to lose the series against Australia in 2015, while they could only scrape 153 against South Africa in May after being reduced to 20-6.
Including this defeat, in all three instances England’s batsmen failed to adapt their game in conditions where the ball was swinging or moving off the seam.
Here, Roy and Bairstow fell playing flashy drives to balls that swung away, while Root took on an ill-advised hook shot and Morgan tried to pull a short, wide Cummins delivery down the leg side and gloved it to keeper Tim Paine.
On other days, all four shots would go for four. But the failure to adapt on such pitches needs addressing – England’s major concern will be this happening in a tournament, such as when they were dismissed for 211 by Pakistan in the Champions Trophy semi-final, rather than the fourth game of a series they have already won.
It was Woakes who showed the top order how to time the ball on this surface, playing elegant strokes to accumulate early on before displaying tremendous power to hit five sixes, only to finally be caught by substitute fielder Glenn Maxwell at long-on off Andrew Tye.
Morgan (33) did well to rebuild with Moeen Ali (33) after England’s early struggles but neither could go on, while Tom Curran – playing in place of the injured Liam Plunkett – made an entertaining 35 off as many balls.
Swing and you’re winning
After frenetic performances in the first two matches, Head was dropped last time out before being recalled to open in place of the injured Aaron Finch at Adelaide.
Once again he looked shaky at the start of his innings but was able to hit his way into form, reaching his fifty off 55 balls with nine fours, thanks to a series of crunching cover drives, and pulls through mid-wicket.
Mitchell Marsh (32) and Marcus Stoinis (14) fell in quick succession, so Head moved to more steady accumulation to anchor the chase, only to miss out on a second ODI century when he picked out Morgan at wide mid-on off a Mark Wood short ball.
With a small target to defend, it was a creditable bowling performance from England, Adil Rashid impressing with 3-49, but Paine’s unbeaten 24 ensured no late collapse after Head’s departure, despite the shambolic run out of Cummins.
Australia have been an inferior one-day side to England in most facets during this series, aside from Finch’s two centuries and the skill and pace of Cummins, Hazlewood and Mitchell Starc.
Starc was rested here but Cummins and Hazlewood were a constant menace with the swinging white ball in muggy conditions, capitalising on captain Steve Smith winning the toss and putting England in to bat.
England seem to be in a better position than the hosts with 18 months to go until the 2019 World Cup, but Australia have proven they can threaten any side if those three fast bowlers fire.
‘We couldn’t find something special’ – match reaction
England captain Eoin Morgan: “We fought really well with only 196 on the board. Full credit to Australia, they bowled very well and were relentless. It was a tall ask to defend that total but Adil Rashid dragged us back into the game. Unfortunately we needed something extra special which didn’t come.”
Man of the match Pat Cummins, who took 4-24: “It has been a tough few games but it was nice here to start well. The wicket here has been brilliant for a few years with pace and bounce. I feel like I can use the bouncer and it swung early.”
Australia opener Travis Head, after hitting 96: “It was fantastic to win. We asked for a full performance – we got that with the ball but lost a few more wickets than we would have liked with the bat. They are a settled side who have a lot of confidence and think they can win from any position.”