Injury-ravaged Australia are suddenly on the back foot in their one-day series, thrashed by 93 runs at the hands of a James Taylor-inspired England in Manchester.
Despite holding a 2-1 lead in the best-of-five series, Australia have felt a heavy momentum shift against them and will be desperate to turn things around with a win at Headingley on Friday in order to avoid a deciding clash back at Old Trafford on Sunday.
Of more pressing concern than the defeat – their fourth heaviest against England in terms of runs – was a lacklustre performance by overworked pace spearhead Mitchell Starc who is looking increasingly like needing a break.
Chasing a target of 301, Australia were bowled out for 207 with only recalled opener Aaron Finch (53) passing 50 as they crumbled under lights with six overs remaining.
Only a fighting 42 from wicketkeeper Matthew Wade, including a 35-run 10th-wicket partnership with James Pattinson, helped Australia avoid the ignominy of their biggest-ever defeat to England – a 101-run loss at Birmingham in 1977.
Finch lamented the top-order’s failures, with Steve Smith (25), George Bailey (25) and Glenn Maxwell (17) getting set without following Taylor’s lead and making a big score.
“I spoke yesterday (about how) it’s a nice place to get in and get a big score and none of us did that today – I put my hand up for that,” Finch said.
“I got off to a good start and got us into a good position and threw it away.
“We knew that on that wicket new batters coming in it was always going to be tough.
“It was a poor, poor display that none of us went on with it.”
Australia made three injury-enforced changes for the match, with David Warner (thumb), Shane Watson (calf) and Nathan Coulter-Nile (hamstring) all flying home this week.
Starc looked like he wanted to join them on the next flight after the world’s No.1 ODI bowler conceded career-worst figures of 1-79.
Chasing for the first time this tour, Australia needed a bright start but didn’t get it, with Joe Burns dismissed for nine.
Smith and Finch then put together a 42-run partnership, Australia’s best of the innings, but that came to an end in spectacular fashion.
The skipper, who arrived at the crease to a chorus of boos from a boisterous crowd still aggrieved by the contentious Ben Stokes dismissal at Lord’s, was dismissed by a full-stretch one-handed grab by fast-bowling giant Steve Finn at short mid-wicket.
Australia never recovered, and England’s spin duo of Adil Rashid (2-41) and Moeen Ali (3-31) then strangled them out of the game during the middle overs, with the tourists losing 3-35 to fall to 5-141 as hope evaporated.
England’s Jason Roy dismissed debutant Ashton Agar with another skilful catch, a one-handed juggle falling back from a huge skied slog.
Earlier, Taylor inspired his team with a brilliant 101 as part of England’s 8-300.
He was well supported by captain Eoin Morgan (62) who benefited from a botched stumping chance from Wade on 15.