Ponting masterclass secures another win
Australia 302 for 6 (Ponting 126, Clarke 52) beat England 299 (Morgan 58) by four wickets
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details
Ricky Ponting has already suffered the ignominy of surrendering the No. 1 Test ranking on this tour, but his final week in England may yet witness Australia's return to the summit of the 50-over game. Ponting produced his highest ever ODI total against England - a breathtaking innings of 126 from 109 deliveries - that provided the platform from which Australia launched a successful assault on England's intimidating 299.
Nothing short of a 7-0 series whitewash will allow Australia to usurp the top-ranked South Africans entering the Champions Trophy, and Ponting's 27th career ODI century delivered them to within two wins of the feat. Australia's fifth consecutive victory over England was sealed when Mitchell Johnson blasted Ryan Sidebottom for a straight six with four wickets in hand and 10 balls remaining, however it was the imperious batting of Ponting that will be remembered as the tide-turner.
The designated rest period has clearly done Ponting no harm. From the outset, his was an innings of sublime timing and intimidating power that England's bowlers could do little to repel. At one point, Ponting cuffed a Sidebottom delivery over the press box, but his most entertaining sequence came when he pounded consecutive sixes off Adil Rashid, who had the dubious honour of taking the second ball.
Ponting's only moment of trepidation came on 35 when, facing Dimitri Mascarenhas, Matt Prior removed the bails with his foot in motion behind the crease. The third umpire, Nigel Llong, found in his favour, however, allowing Ponting to resume his third-wicket stand with Michael Clarke, which produced 123-runs.
The Australians suffered a pair of setbacks when Tim Bresnan removed Tim Paine and Shane Watson, the latter for a well-struck 36 from 34 deliveries. But their exits drew Ponting and Clarke to the centre, and both appeared in an ominous mood from the outset. While Ponting powered out of the blocks, Clarke began his innings watchfully before steadily accelerating as the evening progressed. His penchant for scoring runs this series has not been in question, although his ability to do so quickly has emerged as a discussion point, particularly with the Twenty20 captaincy up for grabs. A return of 52 from 64 balls might not have ended the debate, but it did represent a higher gear than those which he has operated on thus far in the series.
England were left to rue a poor fielding display that undid much of their earlier work with the bat. Australia's final pair of Cameron White (24 not out from 15 balls) and Johnson (18 not out from 12) were too often allowed charity runs in the closing overs, turning a potentially tense finale into a relatively docile stroll.
Earlier, Eoin Morgan's flashing blade propelled England to their highest total of the series, and with it their best chance yet of ending Australia's fortnight of dominance. Morgan's frenetic innings of 58 from 41 deliveries featured an array of dazzling strokes, including powerful sixes to bring up England's 200 and his own half-century.
England seemed set for another middle order stammer when Owais Shah departed in the 39th over with the total at 192 for 5, however Morgan's late-innings partnerships with Mascarenhas and Stuart Broad provided the hosts first with ballast, and later authority. The Dublin-born left-hander made his move between the 38th and 42nd overs during England's batting Powerplay, at which time the hosts advanced their total by 45 runs, then proceeded to frustrate the Australians with powerful and occasionally improvised strokeplay, such as his stunning reverse sweep to the boundary off Nathan Bracken.
Bracken exacted revenge with his next delivery, though not before Morgan, who was dropped on 38 by juggling Michael Hussey at deep square-leg, had accelerated to his highest one-day international score since shifting allegiances from Ireland. At the time of his departure in the 48th over, England were well on course for a competitive total, and when Rashid blasted three boundaries from Johnson's final over, a intimidating score was in the books.
England's middle-order resurgence may not have come in time to save the series, but it will provide team management with a sense of optimism ahead of the Champions Trophy. Too often England's batsmen have been contained and subsequently dismissed by Australia's bowlers over the past few weeks, but on an ideal batting surface the hosts managed a display befitting of an international-standard limited-overs side.
Alex Brown is deputy editor of Cricinfo