There will be no clean-sweep for England. It was too late to save the series but Australia's batsmen, led by Michael Clarke and Ricky Ponting, finally delivered a total their bowlers could defend at The Oval
There will be no clean-sweep for England. It was too late to save the series but Australia's batsmen, led by Michael Clarke and Ricky Ponting, finally delivered a total their bowlers could defend at The Oval. Ryan Harris did just that, with five wickets and a Man-of-the-Match award, that handed England a 78-run defeat and offset any disappointment for Clarke, who earlier had been stranded on 99 in setting up Australia's 290 for 5.
Australia's win will restore a little pride for the visitors, but mostly they will be pleased that a 0-5 result is no longer possible. England's eight-game winning streak, stretching back to their tour of South Africa in November, ended with a bowling display that was just slightly off the mark, and Australia's underperforming batsmen seized their opportunity.
James Anderson had mastered the yorker earlier in the series but here he fell short too often; in one case comically so as he pitched the ball about a metre in front of his feet. Tim Bresnan has struggled to contain over the past week and did so again, and the spinners Graeme Swann and Michael Yardy were driven into the deep with ease and patience by Ponting and Clarke.
Fittingly it was the captain and vice-captain who combined for a 155-run stand and lifted the experienced batting group to their best total of the series. Against an attack energised by Shaun Tait and led by Harris, who collected his third five-wicket haul in a 16-game career, England found their task too great. They had several men who looked capable of guiding the chase, but each fell before he could create major headaches for Ponting.
There was Strauss, who punched his way to 37 before Tait's pace and late swing drew an edge behind. There was Kevin Pietersen, who in six balls looked the most destructive he has in the series, with two boundaries and another denied by the stumps at the non-striker's end. He was upset to be lbw to Harris advancing down the pitch, but the umpire's decision was sound.
And there was Eoin Morgan, who treated half-volleys from James Hopes with disdain and lifted him over the boundary three times. When Morgan edged behind off Harris for 47, the life drained from the contest. A late 57 from Yardy sparked minor interest from the crowd, but with the required run-rate hovering above nine, it was all too much.
England did have their misfortune - Paul Collingwood was wrongly given lbw to a Steven Smith legbreak that would have missed a fourth stump - but the result was set up when their bowlers couldn't restrict Australia. Neither Ponting (92) nor Clarke were rewarded with a century, but they got their job done.
Clarke's milestone was tantalisingly close. A single off the first ball of the 50th over took him to 99 and he watched on as an in-form Smith faced the rest of the over, leaving Clarke as the ninth player in ODI history to remain unbeaten one short of a hundred, and the third Australian after Dean Jones and Brad Hodge.
Although he again struggled to be the boundary man in the final stages, Clarke's overall effort was his most positive and fluent in limited-overs cricket for some time, and he made Anderson pay for dropping him at cover on 5. A pair of boundaries off Anderson soon afterwards, one over cover and one through the leg side, gave Clarke confidence and he kept the scoreboard ticking over throughout his stand with Ponting.
For his part, the captain was in excellent touch and was at his best driving off the back foot through the off side with terrific timing. The scratchiness he showed three days ago at Old Trafford was eradicated as he swept with self-assurance and refused to allow pressure to build through the middle overs.
Ponting seemed to be headed for a century when he called the batting Powerplay at the start of the 43rd over but from its first ball, he was caught at cover trying to clear the infield off Anderson. Ponting was gone for 92 off 93 balls, but he had given Australia an excellent platform. His must-win attitude was obvious the moment Shane Watson holed out for 41, giving away another strong start.
Watson pinpointed Morgan on the midwicket boundary with a slog-sweep off Swann and as he bowed his head in disappointment, he felt the eyes of his partner Ponting staring at him from the middle of the pitch. This was not what Watson had in mind when he spoke before the match of playing a big innings, and nor was it what the captain was expecting.
In the end it didn't matter. Australia did enough to prevent a whitewash, and will aim to pull the score back to a respectable 3-2 at Lord's on Saturday.