MANCHESTER: England’s hopes of a first 5-0 whitewash of Australia in any format in more than 140 years of men’s international cricket were in danger after a spectacular collapse at Old Trafford on Sunday.
Set just 206 to win the fifth and final one-day international by world champions Australia, England in turn slumped to 66 for five in 16 overs when the lunch break was taken.
That left Jos Buttler, 27 not out on his Lancashire home ground, and Moeen Ali (three not out) — the last of their recognised batsmen — to see England to victory.
Fast bowler Billy Stanlake’s spell of three wickets for 18 runs in five overs had given Australia a shot of a first international win under coach Justin Langer, appointed after Darren Lehmann resigned in the fall-out from the Cape Town ball-tampering scandal in March.
It took England just four balls to lose their first wicket when the in-form Jason Roy, fresh from his 101 in the fourth ODI at Chester-le-Street on Thursday, was bowled attempting an extravagant big hit off left-arm spinner Ashton Agar.
Stanlake then took over, bowling Jonny Bairstow (12) and having Test skipper Joe Root (one) well caught at slip by Shaun Marsh.
When Stanlake bowled England captain Eoin Morgan for a duck, the hosts were 27 for four.
Alex Hales (20) started to repair the damage only to be carelessly caught behind chasing a wide ball from Kane Richardson.
Earlier, off-spinner Ali took an ODI best four for 46 as England, the number one-ranked side in this format, dismissed Australia for 205 inside 35 overs.
The innings was over so quickly that England found themselves batting before the scheduled break.
Travis Head (56) was the only Australia batsman to pass fifty, with D’Arcy Short left stranded on 47 not out.
Together with opening partner Aaron Finch he got the innings off to a roaring start, the pair putting on 60 inside seven overs after Australia captain Tim Paine won the toss on a good pitch.
But spin has proved to be Australia’s Achilles heel this series and Ali got England back into the match with two wickets for no runs in three balls.
With his third ball of the match, Ali had Finch (22) under-edging a pull onto his stumps.
Two balls later, Marcus Stoinis was out for a duck when a mistimed sweep lobbed gently to Jake Ball at short fine leg.
Head looked in good touch while compiling a 36-ball fifty, including eight fours.
But, not for the first time, he fell soon after, completing a half-century when, on 56, he chipped fast bowler Liam Plunkett to Morgan at short midwicket.
And 90 for three soon became 97 for four when Marsh, who had made two hundreds this series, exited for just eight, stumped by Buttler off Ali.
Wicket-keeper Buttler was involved again as Australia slumped to 100 for five when, reacting quickly to Paine’s nudge, he ran round and, tumbling on the turn, threw down the stumps at the bowler’s end to run out his opposing gloveman for just one.
Surrey left-arm seamer Sam Curran, making his ODI debut, then followed Ali in taking two wickets in no runs in three balls to leave Australia 159 for seven.
Alex Carey had made a promising 44, including five fours and a six when he was carelessly caught behind trying to steer the ball down to third man.
Two balls later Agar was out for a bizarre duck when bowled shouldering arms to a straight Curran delivery that smashed into his middle and off stumps.