A special innings from Jos Buttler helped England to victory in the third ODI against Australia in Sydney to give the tourists a 3-0 lead in the series with two matches still to play.
The England wicket-keeper took his time to get going but finished 100 not out, sharing a crucial eighth-wicket partnership of 113 with Chris Woakes (53*) to lift England to 302/6, a total that the hosts could not overhaul, despite a belligerent half-century from the in-form Aaron Finch (62).
Buttler came to the crease with England in trouble at 107/4, with their top four batsmen all back in the pavilion. They were in danger of posting a below-par total, and that seemed even more likely when they found themselves 189/6 in the 39th over before Buttler came to the rescue.
When Moeen Ali became the sixth victim of the England innings, Buttler was on 45 from 47 balls. By the time the innings was complete he had brought up his fifth ODI century from 83 balls. It was a remarkable acceleration that took England from a position of weakness to a commanding total.
England added 102 runs from the final 10 overs, and 38 from the final 12 balls, and while Buttler stole the show a huge amount of credit should go to Woakes, who scored at an even faster rate than his partner, bringing up third ODI half-century in 35 deliveries. The all-rounder's innings included five fours and two sixes and he proved the perfect foil for Buttler, chancing his arm as the partnership began before both men began to swing for the fences in a brilliant display of hitting.
Before the Buttler/Woakes stand England’s innings was one of starts that weren’t converted. Jonny Bairstow made 39, Joe Root got to 27 and Eoin Morgan made 41 before they were dismissed. Australia’s return to the three fast bowlers – Starc, Cummims and Hazlewood – that helped win them the Ashes so convincingly brought them a steady flow of wickets until the assault from Buttler and Woakes.
The SCG pitch was two-paced throughout and playing big shots proved difficult for most batsmen. That made Buttler’s effort all the more impressive and added to Australia’s woes when they needed to score big in the latter half of their innings.
England got early wickets in Australia’s chase, but they also lost Liam Plunkett due to an issue with his left hamstring. The right-arm quick managed just eight balls before he left the field, leaving Root to step in as England's sixth bowler. The part-time off-spinner did well enough, sending down 8.4 overs for the cost of 60 runs, but Plunkett's absence came as a blow to Eoin Morgan's plans.
The Australian innings unfolded in a similar fashion to England’s, with the big difference being that the home team did not have a counter-attacking hundred to get them up to and beyond 300. There were starts but no finishes with Aaron Finch making 62, Steve Smith managing 45 and Mitchell Marsh making a very assured 55. None could go on to post a match-defining score though.
The vital wicket of Smith was not without controversy. Australia's captain bottom-edged a ball from Mark Wood and Buttler claimed a very low catch diving to his right. It was a marginal decision but the on-field umpires gave the soft signal as out and after countless replays the call stood and Smith departed. Neither Smith nor the home crowd were happy with the outcome as the batsman departed.
The pick of the England bowlers were the rapid Wood (2/46) and leg-spinner Adil Rashid (2/51), who both did a good job of strangling the Australian chase and offered a constant wicket-taking threat.
With Australia's top order back in the hutch, the required run rate steadily increased, and the pressure was on the big-hitting Marcus Stoinis to get them over the line. A sixth-wicket partnership of 74 between Stoinis and wicket-keeper Tim Paine (31*) gave Australia hope, but they were left with too much to do, England wrapping up the win to a claim a first ODI series victory on Australian soil since 2007.