Eoin Morgan’s determined century spared England embarrassment but could not prevent defeat as David Warner eased Australia to a three-wicket victory in Sydney.
England went into their Carlton Tri-Series opener with a sense of cautious optimism but move on to Brisbane with nothing to celebrate but a high-class 121 on Morgan’s bow as permanent one-day captain.
England’s reshaped top order buckled under examination by Australia’s pace attack, with Ian Bell and James Taylor dismissed for ducks in the first three balls of the day.
Warner made short work of England’s 234 all out, smashing 127 in 115 balls as the hosts breezed over the line with 61 balls remaining, enough to secure a bonus point.
Bell’s golden duck, though a little unlucky, undermined his record knock of 187 in the final warm-up fixture, while there will be genuine concerns over the whole top-order’s response to the raw pace of Mitchell Starc and Pat Cummins. That is an ingredient England’s attack appears to lack, though Chris Woakes claimed four for 40.
Starc gave Australia the perfect start, with the first ball of the match swinging into Bell’s pads at good speed. Replays suggest there might have been a slight inside edge but, with no DRS, the lbw decision stood.
There was no doubt about Taylor’s fate two balls later, Starc pitching slightly fuller and winning a second lbw with one destined for leg stump.
When Joe Root nicked Cummins to slip, England slumped further to 12 for three. That brought Morgan to the crease at a time of crisis and he responded with a true captain’s effort. By the time he departed he had faced 136 deliveries, with 11 fours and three sixes. His initial half-century was one of self-denial, occupying 88 balls in which he took minimal risks, but he returned to the role of entertainer and lit up the last ten overs with some majestic striking.
He briefly found a companion in Jos Buttler, but his scratchy 28 never looked likely to become a big score. Buttler, like Moeen Ali, was out tamely to all-rounder James Faulkner, while Ravi Bopara played a dreadful shot against the tidy Xavier Doherty.
Starc returned to end Morgan’s impressive stand and skittled Steven Finn first ball.
England, already without the injured James Anderson, held Stuart Broad back until the tenth over of the reply. That gave Woakes and Finn first crack at the new ball and they had mixed results. Finn shipped 31 in four overs as Warner and Aaron Finch banked some early boundaries, but Woakes turned in a tidy spell that cost just 13. He also came up with a breakthrough, Finch dragging one into his stumps from a foot outside off.
Shane Watson obliged Chris Jordan by taking on a bouncer and hoisting a steepling catch to Woakes, but Warner was the key. He began to control the game, working the ball into gaps and easing to a 48-ball half-century.
Steve Smith supported Warner with 37, clubbing Moeen for six but later gifting him a wicket on the charge. Warner planted Finn through the covers to reach his ton in 97 balls. It proved decisive.
Morgan admitted England’s abysmal start to their batting came as a “shock”. He said: “The overall feeling is very disappointed. Losing wickets so early on in our innings set us back and I thought from there we did really well to get 234.
“If we’d have posted 280-plus, we’d have been in with more of a chance in the game, but being 0-2 to start with was a bit of a shock. But Australia are a strong side and they can come up with performances like that. We’ve just got to find a better way of dealing with them.”
Warner added: “It was good to score a hundred but we won the game,” he said. “George [Bailey] asked if we wanted to go for it and we took the powerplay. We did that and we lost a couple of wickets but we keep backing ourselves. Fortunately, James Faulkner finished it off for us.”