ENGLAND’S batsmen stumbled at the final hurdle to gift Australia the Royal London one-day series and spurn the chance of an unbeaten summer.
Starting the day at 2-2 knowing one more win would ensure they ended the season having won or drawn all series in all formats against New Zealand and Australia, England lurched to an eight-wicket defeat.
They opted to bat first but only Ben Stokes (42) and Adil Rashid (35 not out) offered any resistance as the hosts slumped to 138 all out in 33 disappointing overs.
Mitch Marsh and John Hastings did most of the damage, returning combined figures of seven for 48, while Mitchell Starc forced captain Eoin Morgan to retire hurt courtesy of a nasty blow to the head.
Morgan was treated for concussion and did not return, leaving James Taylor to deputise as an unbroken century stand between Aaron Finch (70no) and George Bailey (41no) saw Australia home less than halfway through their allotted overs.
In the first four matches the lowest score by a side batting first had been 299, leaving England’s bowlers with precious little to defend.
They managed a couple of breakthroughs after the turnaround but, with the Ashes and T20 honours gone, Finch and Bailey were in no mood to let the prospect of a 3-2 success slip.
England would have been pleased after winning the toss but any smiles in the home dressing room quickly turned to frowns.
The in-form Jason Roy was given out lbw twice in the first over of the day, bowled by the recalled Starc, but after successfully overturning the first he declined to do so a second time.
He did seek Alex Hales’ counsel at the non-striker’s end but, although the ball seemed quite clearly to be swinging down leg-side, the pair allowed the verdict to stand.
Hastings added a pair of scalps with the second new ball, Hales’ forgettable series ending with a half-hearted flap to a wide one outside off stump.
Taylor was close behind, nicking to Matthew Wade attempting to force Hastings into the off side. That left England 22 for three but there was worse to come when Morgan’s stay was ended in violent fashion by Starc’s bouncer.
He stayed on his feet after the initial contact but it immediately became clear he was in no state to continue facing 90mph bumpers.
After the ten powerplay overs England were 40 for three, their worst return of the series in terms of both runs scored and wickets lost.
England needed Stokes to lead the lower middle order to a rousing response but although the all-rounder tried his best, Marsh had all the answers.
He pounded out a full, testing length and picked up handsome rewards. Jonny Bairstow and David Willey fell lbw to straight deliveries, DRS used to confirm both dismissals, and Moeen Ali was caught behind driving carelessly away from his body.
Stokes’ knock had been the exception, with six boundaries and a clean six over long-off, but Marsh won his third leg before decision to leave England seven down after just 20 overs.
Rashid averted a double-digit total as he drew out stands of 21 and 32 with number ten Mark Wood and last man Reece Topley but it was never likely to be enough.
The brevity of the England innings meant Australia were able to squeeze in ten overs of the chase before lunch.
Neither Joe Burns or Steve Smith survived that period, both nicking to wicketkeeper Bairstow as Willey and Wood chalked up early successes.
Resuming on 36 for two, Australia threw off the shackles as soon as Rashid entered the fray.
His first two overs came at a cost of 27, including six down the ground from Finch and three boundaries in four balls from Bailey.
Finch, in particular, was in no mood to linger and raced past 50 with the eighth and ninth fours of his innings off Moeen.
By now any sense of tension had gone from the game, with Taylor shuffling his attack as much out of duty as innovation or intent. Topley probably had more to gain than most, making his 50-over debut ahead of Steven Finn and Liam Plunkett, but he had little to celebrate.
A thick edge from Bailey, Australia’s 19th boundary, settled things as England’s impressive 2015 campaign ended in an anti-climax.