Smith ton leads Australia to final
Australia 7 for 304 (Smith 102*) beat England 8 for 303 (Bell 141, Root 69) by 3 wickets
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details
Before this game, Steven Smith had captained Australia in three matches. They had lost none of them, and he had scored a century in each. Now he has captained Australia in four matches. They have still lost none of them, and he has still scored a century in each. The first three were Tests against India, this was an ODI against England. The opponents were new, the format was different, but this was the same captain Smith.
The day had started with Smith sending England in; he thought the pitch had some juice in it, and would help his fast bowlers. He was wrong, and Ian Bell's best one-day international score of 141 might have made Smith the captain rue his bold decision. But Smith the batsman did everything right in the chase of 304, and paced his innings to perfection. He was still there when the winning runs were struck with just one ball to spare.
The end was tighter than Australia had hoped. Smith and Brad Haddin had made victory seem inevitable and only five runs were needed from the last two overs, but Haddin had just fallen and Moises Henriques was on strike. He picked up three from James Anderson's over, but also retained the strike for the final over. With every delivery that Smith was at the wrong end, tension rose in the Australian rooms.
Two runs from six Chris Woakes deliveries was the equation, but Henriques couldn't penetrate the infield, and was run out third ball attempting a suicidal single. At least it meant Smith was on strike; he flicked a single through midwicket, and the new batsman Mitchell Starc managed to force the ball through cover for the winning run from the fifth ball of the over. It was enough to put Australia into the tri-series final.
Smith walked off unbeaten on 102 from 95 balls - his third ODI century from his past ten matches - and collected another Man-of-the-Match novelty cheque. He deserved it, but it was also notable that Smith had more support than did Bell during England's innings. Aaron Finch, Shaun Marsh, Glenn Maxwell, James Faulkner and Haddin all made at least 30; only Moeen Ali and Joe Root backed up Bell with 30-plus scores for England.
The rate of scoring at the death was also significant. After 40 overs the Australians had 5 for 230, meaning their last 9.5 overs brought 2 for 74. England had the perfect platform thanks to Bell and Root and were 2 for 244 after 40 overs, but lost 6 for 59 in their final ten as both established batsmen fell and the Australian bowlers found their range. It really was an opportunity missed for England.
Australia's chase began solidly through Shaun Marsh and Aaron Finch, but on 32 Finch was bowled when he tried to work Moeen Ali through leg. Things looked shaky when Steven Finn struck twice in an over, first with Marsh caught at backward point for 45, undone by Finn's bounce, and then Cameron White leg-before by a searing inswinging yorker for a second-ball duck in his first ODI innings for nearly four years.
A third wicket should have followed in the same over, when Glenn Maxwell chipped and was put down by James Anderson at short midwicket. Even so, Australia were 3 for 92 and in some trouble. But Smith played a typically level-headed innings, steering the ball through gaps and milking as many runs as he could to build a platform. Maxwell did the same for 37, before he lost his head and was caught on the boundary off Moeen.
Promoted to No. 6, James Faulkner scored 35 but this time was unable to be the finisher, caught at point off Woakes. But Haddin showed his experience and struck the boundaries Australia required to bring the equation well into their favour. He crunched Finn down the ground for a six and a four in his final over, the 45th of the innings.
Until then it seemed the Australian Finn review might make depressing reading for Darren Lehmann and his men on Saturday, but the story of the economy changed quickly. Finn finished with 2 for 65 off his ten overs, and when he sent down his last ball the Australians needed 32 off 30. Haddin was caught off Woakes for 42 off 29, but Australia were by then close enough.
It meant that Bell's outstanding innings had been in vain. He set England up to reach 8 for 303, batting himself until the 42nd over of the innings. With no swing evident, Bell went after the bowling early and struck three fours in Starc's second over, although it was Moeen who really got the runs flowing with three consecutive sixes off Pat Cummins.
Moeen top-edged a slower bouncer from Faulkner and was caught for 46, and followed by James Taylor, who drove Henriques to mid-off for 5. But after a 113-run opening stand, Bell found another ally and his partnership with Root was worth 121 for the third wicket. Bell's half-century came from 42 balls and his hundred off 92 balls, his fourth one-day international century and his first for nearly two years.
It was an impressively controlled innings, confirming that Eoin Morgan had made the right move by asking Bell to return to the top of the order for this series after he was dropped in Sri Lanka. Bell finished with 15 fours and one six and was especially strong through the off side, before finally he slapped Gurinder Sandhu's slower bouncer to mid-off and was caught.
Sandhu made it a double strike by having Morgan caught behind first ball, and after a couple of adventurous strokes including a sort of reverse ramp over short third man for four off Sandhu, Root fell for 69 when he lobbed a catch to mid-on off Cummins.
From the antepenultimate ball of the innings, Ravi Bopara was bowled by Starc for a scratchy 7 from 16 and a pair of run-outs followed to remove Jos Buttler for 25 and Woakes for a duck, as England sought whatever final runs they could get. They needed more.
Brydon Coverdale is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @brydoncoverdale