It took 91 days and countless false dawns but England finally won a game of international cricket in Australia to ensure they avoided the ignominy of equalling their worst run of defeats. England's 57-run victory ended a sequence of nine successive losses to Australia and, in averting a double 5-0 whitewash, at least added one positive to a tour of demoralising defeats and crushing disappointments.
That England's win was built on the back of performances by two members of the next generation of stars will only add to the sense of relief for Alastair Cook, who started the day by confirming he was "desperate" to stay on as captain, despite hinting earlier in the week that he was on the brink of resignation. Ben Stokes hit a maiden fifty in one-day cricket in his new role at No3 and Jos Buttler again delivered a brilliant exhibition of modern-day batting, striking 71 off 43 balls, to ensure England could post a total of 316 and set Australia a record-breaking run chase at the Waca.
Buttler and Stokes succeeded in puncturing the seemingly invincible Mitchell Johnson, who conceded 72 runs off 10 wicketless overs on a ground where he has twice terrorised England in Ashes Tests. George Bailey, the stand-in Australia captain, admitted before the match that this was England's "best chance" of victory and his weakened side could not match the high standards that had gone before. They bowled 15 wides, fumbled half-chances in the field and their lower order could not provide the fireworks to back up Aaron Finch, who scored his second century of the series.
Michael Clarke and Shane Watson return for the final match in the series in Adelaide tomorrow. The Waca has little in common with the Riverside Ground in Durham, but it has become Stokes's second home. It was here last month that he announced his arrival in Test cricket with a stunning second-innings century and he built on that yesterday with his vital innings and four for 39 off nine overs as Australia were bowled out for 259 with 20 balls to spare. Stokes is not only talented but tough too. His bowling was mauled in Brisbane a week ago when James Faulkner delivered that heart-stopping one-wicket win, but he recovered here and his relief was evident when he dismissed his Gabba tormentor.
Stokes sent Faulkner on his way with a few choice words, which earned a rebuke from the umpires. Having seen James Tredwell smashed out of the attack and Chris Jordan struggle with his run up and rhythm Cook needed Stokes to bowl tidily. He delivered with the key wickets of Bailey, via a clever use of the Decision Review System, and Glenn Maxwell before snuffing out any thoughts of another sensational comeback by bowling Johnson and tricking Faulkner with a slower ball.
England's batting performance neatly fitted the model envisioned by the management, with the top order laying a solid platform, which was exploited by Buttler and Eoin Morgan in the final overs. Cook and Ian Bell set out positively, adding 87 from 74 balls for the first wicket.
Cook's timing has steadily improved during the one-day series and England hit 12 fours in the first 10 overs as they signalled their intent. Cook was bowled slog-sweeping Maxwell and Bell was given lifelines on 48 and 52, although he failed to go on and fell flicking a leg-side half-volley to short fine leg. Stokes had struggled in his first attempt at batting at No?3 in Sydney, when he struggled to 15 off 39 balls, and he started nervously yesterday, playing a scoring shot a ball. However, once he reached double figures he settled into a calmer rhythm interspersed with thumping drives down the ground, a strength which shone through during his Test hundred here.
England wobbled slightly when he was out and Ravi Bopara departed with the score on 216 for five, but Buttler and Morgan are impossible to keep quiet in the final overs. Morgan brought up the fifty partnership with a straight six and Buttler hit six fours and a six as Australia conceded 92 off the final 10 overs. Finch was composed and batted at almost a run a ball throughout his century, despite regularly losing partners. Tim Bresnan put in his best bowling performance of the tour and Stuart Broad improved steadily to peg back Australia after a blistering start. Shaun Marsh edged to second slip and Matthew Wade was out of touch, struggling to 23 off 40 balls.
Finch's hundred came off 97 balls and included one six down the ground which landed on the roof of the first tier of the stand, but when he guided a ball from Bresnan into Broad's hands at third man England were heading for victory. After the Gabba meltdown, -Australia still felt they had a chance, but the game felt up when Maxwell and Faulkner departed within two overs. England, however, are a side unaccustomed to victory and they spilt two catches in the deep to take the last wicket before Bresnan brought a big grin to Cook's face by dismissing Pattinson.