The timing of this series so soon after England’s T20 World Cup triumph was labelled “horrible” by Warwickshire all-rounder Moeen Ali and the significance or lack thereof of this dead rubber was amplified by a sparsely-populated MCG.
At a ground that has a 100,000-capacity, only 10,406 fans turned up, setting a new record low at the venue for a men’s ODI involving Australia, who nevertheless gave those who attended reason for cheer.
On a cold, gloomy day, former Worcestershire batter Travis Head thumped 152 off 130 balls and David Warner 106 off 102 deliveries in a boundary-heavy 269-run opening stand in 38.1 overs, underpinning Australia’s 355 for five.
Set an adjusted Duckworth-Lewis-Stern target of 364 after rain reduced the third and final ODI to 48 overs per side, England capitulated to 142 all out in 31.4 overs to lose by a record 221 runs.
There was an end-of-term feeling to England’s display, with the tourists seeming lethargic after a hectic past couple of months for many in the squad, and Jos Buttler acknowledged they were subpar.
“We tried our best but we fell a long way short – Australia played really well,” said Buttler at the presentation ceremony on a ground where England won the T20 World Cup nine days earlier.
“But there’s lots to be proud of, you don’t need long memories to remember the scenes here last week.”
England were on 57 for one in the 13th over but the downfall of Jason Roy, who top-scored with 33 off 48 balls, saw the tourists lurch to 95 for seven, ultimately ending any hope of overhauling the target.
Adam Zampa took four for 31 in 5.4 overs while there were two wickets apiece for Pat Cummins and Sean Abbott and one each for Josh Hazlewood and Mitch Marsh, who earlier made a cameo of 30 off 16 balls.
He was given licence to tee off after the efforts of Head and Warner – who recorded his first three-figure score in any international format since January 2020 as he went past 6,000 ODI runs.
Both openers were removed within four balls of each other by Olly Stone, who came back from leaking 65 in his first seven overs to finish with a creditable four for 85.
“I didn’t start great, a few pies in there which wasn’t ideal and didn’t set the tone,” said the fast bowler. “When you’re off at this level you get punished and it makes you learn quickly.
“I thought it was nice the way I came back and I enjoy bowling in those high-pressure situations at the end, it was nice to pick up four wickets and claw it back.”
Former Warwickshire man Stone admitted it would be “wonderful” to be selected for England’s defence of their 50-over World Cup in India next year after his second ODI appearance in four years – he played in the series opener too.
But Stone, whose career progression has been disrupted by several injuries, believes he has gained some insight after a tricky few days for England.
“It’s a big learning curve for me,” he added. “It’s frustrating because I want to do as well as I can but it’s definitely something that I can learn from and hopefully take forward.
“The series hasn’t gone the way we’d like it to and the boys obviously attacked it as hard as we could but it wasn’t quite good enough.”
Australia captain Cummins was thrilled his side finished the series with a flourish.
“It’s been fantastic, all three games,” he said. “Everything has really clicked, the bowlers have all wanted to bowl and the batters have been fantastic.
“It’s good to finish it off here, that’s just about the best ODI I’ve been a part of.”