Eoin Morgan’s determined century spared England embarrassment but could not prevent defeat as David Warner eased Australia to a three-wicket victory in Sydney.
England went in to their Carlton Tri-Series opener with a sense of cautious optimism but move on to Brisbane with nothing to celebrate but a high-class 121 on Morgan’s bow as permanent one-day captain.
England’s reshaped top order buckled under examination by Australia’s pace attack, with Ian Bell and James Taylor dismissed for ducks in the first three balls of the day.
Warner made short work of England’s underwhelming 234 all out, smashing 127 in 115 balls as the hosts breezed over the line with 61 balls remaining, enough to secure a bonus point.
England move on the Brisbane, and a meeting with India on Tuesday, with plenty of issues to confront.
Bell’s golden duck, though a little unlucky, undermined his record knock of 187 in the final warm-up fixture, while there will be genuine concerns over the whole top-order’s response to the raw pace of Mitchell Starc and Pat Cummins.
That is an ingredient England’s attack appears to lack, though Chris Woakes charged in to claim four for 40.
Starc gave Australia the perfect start, with the first ball of the match swinging in to Bell’s pads at good speed.
Replays suggest there might have been a slight inside edge but with no DRS, the lbw decision stood.
There was no doubt about Taylor’s fate two balls later, Starc pitching slightly fuller and winning a second lbw with one destined for leg stump.
A double-wicket maiden was no way to begin the series and when Joe Root nicked Cummins to slip, England slumped further to 12 for three.
That brought Morgan to the crease at a time of crisis and he responded with a true captain’s effort.
By the time he departed the scene he had faced 136 deliveries, with 11 fours and three sixes, and almost single-handedly averted calamity.
It was his seventh one-day ton, including one for his native Ireland, but first in a year.
His initial half-century was one of self-denial, occupying 88 balls in which he scrapped hard and took minimal risks, but he returned to the role of entertainer thereafter and lit up the last 10 overs with some majestic striking.
He briefly found a companion in Jos Buttler, but his scratchy 28 never looked likely to become a big score.
Buttler, like Moeen Ali, was out tamely to all-rounder James Faulkner, while Ravi Bopara played a dreadful shot against the tidy Xavier Doherty.
Starc returned to end Morgan’s impressive stand with a miscued pull and skittled Steven Finn first ball.
Morgan’s runs made a game of it, though Australia remained heavy favourites.
England, already without the injured James Anderson, held Stuart Broad back until the 10th over of the reply.
That gave Woakes and Finn first crack at the new ball and they had mixed results.
Finn shipped 31 in four overs as Warner and Aaron Finch banked some early boundaries, but Woakes turned in a tidy spell that cost just 13.
He also came up with a breakthrough, Finch dragging one into his stumps from a foot outside off.
Warner greeted Broad’s arrival with a statement of intent, lashing him through the covers for four to bring up the Australia 50.
The 10-over comparison made grim reading, with the hosts 16 runs better off having lost three fewer wickets.
Shane Watson obliged Chris Jordan by taking on a bouncer and hoisting a steepling catch to Woakes at deep midwicket, but Warner was the key.
He began to control the game, working the ball into gaps and easing to a 48-ball half-century.
England rotated their bowlers, Moeen’s spin offering the only real variation, but at the halfway stage Australia were coasting at 140 for two.
Steve Smith supported Warner with 37, clubbing Moeen for six but later gifting him a wicket on the charge.
Warner planted Finn the covers to reach his ton in 97 balls, unbelievably his first one-day hundred since March 2012.
England took advantage of Australian haste to pocket some later wickets, the impressive Woakes taking out George Bailey and Glenn Maxwell in his seventh over and Jordan running out Brad Haddin.
Warner fell chasing the extra point, steering Woakes to point, but Australia got over the line with more than 10 overs remaining.