England are on course for an ODI whitewash over Australia after a 16-run win in the third ODI in Sydney which their captain Eoin Morgan described as the best performance they have put together as a group.
The tourists struggled in the opening stages with the bat before a superb Jos Buttler hundred rescued them. England then defended a total of 302/6 despite losing Liam Plunkett to injury after just eight balls of his spell.
“I’m so proud of the guys today,” Morgan said. “I thought we fought really hard with the bat and the ball. I thought that Jos [Buttler] was probably the difference between the sides, certainly with the bat on a wicket that we thought was going to be fantastic to bat on and turned out to be a little bit two-paced. I thought he paced his innings to perfection and really did take the responsibility on his shoulders and played anchor until the last three overs.
“That has probably been our best win as a group to date. The amount of character we showed again was awesome. To have one your quicks go down was a hammer blow. But I am so proud of the way the guys fought back with Joe [Root] bowling Liam [Plunkett’s] overs and then the guys at the end were absolutely outstanding.”
While Morgan was overjoyed to see his team win the series with two matches still to play, his opposite number was understandably downbeat after another loss. Steve Smith said it was the final five overs of England's innings Australia where lost the game, as Buttler and Chris Woakes (53*) blasted 66 runs from 30 deliveries.
“I thought the way we bowled the first 45 overs was pretty good and obviously Jos [Buttler] played exceptionally well and [Woakes] played really well at the end, but I don’t think we bowled as well as we could have,” Smith said. “We bowled in areas that they were able to hit it and you can’t do that to a quality player like Jos.
“I thought we were probably chasing 30 too many from what perhaps we could have got them for. Then tonight we couldn’t get that momentum going again. We probably batted a bit better tonight than we have the last couple of times, but it wasn’t enough to get over the line.”
Smith was given out in controversial fashion for 45 when Buttler took a low catch off the bowling of Mark Wood. The Aussie skipper was phlegmatic about the marginal decision.
“It got given out so I was out, so I had to get off the field unfortunately,” Smith said. "It was probably a good thing, I wasn’t hitting them very well and shanking them all over the place so it gave someone else a chance to come out and bat, and the guys almost got us home.”
Looking ahead to the fourth match of the series in Adelaide on 26 January, Smith said it was clear that his team needed to improve.
“We have got a lot to learn. Our one-day cricket for a while now hasn’t been up to scratch and it has been pretty disappointing. We need to find a way to turn things around. We have to start to find ways to win games of cricket against very strong opposition.”
For Morgan, the target is obvious: to win the series 5-0. “We are certainly going to be playing our strongest possible XI for both games so hopefully it is good enough to put in two winning performances.”