Seventh one-day international, Riverside: England 177-6 beat Australia 176 by four wickets Match scorecard
By Pranav Soneji
The dismissal of Ponting sparked an Australian collapse
England avoided a 7-0 one-day series whitewash with a four-wicket win over Australia at the Riverside.
Graeme Swann was England's star performer, taking 5-28 as Australia were dismissed for 176 despite an innings of 53 by Ricky Ponting.
Andrew Strauss (46) and Joe Denly (53) gave England a solid platform with a 106-run opening partnership.
A middle-order collapse gave Australia hope but Paul Collingwood and Tim Bresnan saw England home on 177-6.
Although the victory ensured England escaped an unprecedented 7-0 series drubbing, another sub-standard batting performance - Strauss and Denly excepted - gave them little cause for optimism ahead of the ICC Champions Trophy, which starts on Tuesday.
Strauss praises bowlers for setting tone
After an impressive bowling display, when Swann became only the fifth England spin bowler to take five wickets in a one-day innings, the hosts almost contrived to throw away a match which was there for the taking.
From 106-0, when an injudicious reverse sweep cost Strauss his wicket, England slumped to 141-5 and although they reached their target with 10 overs to spare, it was somehow fitting that they should finally stumble over the line courtesy of a no-ball.
Despite the disappointment of missing out on a series whitewash, and dropping to third in the one-day rankings as a consequence, Australia will travel to South Africa for the Champions Trophy confident of repeating their 2006 victory.
With the sun belting down on a glorious morning in Chester-le-Street, Ponting once again lost the toss - his sixth from seven - as Strauss opted to utilise the favourable overhead conditions and bowl first.
The hosts welcomed back Collingwood from a three-game hiatus and gave another local favourite, Graham Onions, his one-day debut at the ground where he recently helped Durham win the County Championship for the second successive year.
On a track offering assistance for both seamers and spinners, England bowled with the control and aggression so often missing in their previous six performances in the series.
Anderson reaped instant success as Shane Watson edged a simple catch to Swann at first slip and Tim Paine, fresh from a maiden one-day ton at Trent Bridge in the previous match, followed suit to give Onions his first one-day wicket for England.
With Australia teetering for the first time in the series at 17-2, the experience of Ponting and Clarke steered the tourists away from immediate danger.
Ponting, in particular, was cutting, pulling and driving with consummate ease and a booming front-foot drive saw the Tasmanian surpass Inzamam-ul-Haq and move to third in the all-time leading one-day run scorers, with only Sanath Jayasuriya and Sachin Tendulkar now in front of him.
But soon after reaching his 68th one-day half century, Ponting was beaten in the flight by Swann and looped a catch to Collingwood, who was stationed at mid-on, a dismissal which sparked a seven-wicket collapse for just 80 runs.
The breakthrough provided fresh impetus for England and Clarke followed soon after for 38, run out by a smart piece of fielding from Eoin Morgan.
BEST ODI BOWLING BY AN ENGLAND SPINNER
5-20 V Marks v New Zealand 1984
5-28 G Swann v Australia 2009
5-33 G Hick v Zimbabwe 2000
5-39 V Marks v Sri Lanka 1983
5-41 S Patel v South Africa 2008
5-57 A Giles v India 2002
Swann's 10-over spell was magnificent, and he extracted notable turn as well as deceptive loop and bounce to account for Cameron White, who was bowled off a thin inside edge.
James Hopes followed soon after, skying a leading edge back to the bowler while Mitchell Johnson, fresh from clubbing a brutal four over mid-on, meekly drove to Anderson at short cover.
Lee was soon clean bowled by Swann, a classic off-spinner's dismissal, with the ball bisecting the gap between bat and pad, to leave Australia at 158-8.
Lusty late blows from Mike Hussey - including a huge six into the third row of the top tier of the square leg boundary - bumped up the total, but the left-hander fell one run short of his half century when he drove a catch to Denly at mid-off.
With 177 to chase down from 50 overs, England's openers made a cautious start but were assisted by a number of front-foot no-balls from Lee and Ben Hilfenhaus, the latter making his first appearance since the fifth Ashes Test.
Denly brought up the 50-run partnership tucking the ball off his hips for four in the 12th over and further boundaries followed as Nathan Hauritz and Mitchell Johnson dropped short, allowing Strauss and Denly to punch boundaries on both sides of the wicket.
But just as Strauss was set to reach his half century, he once again needlessly gifted his wicket away, top-edging an attempted reverse sweep off Hauritz to Johnson at short fine leg - the fifth time the off-spinner had claimed his wicket in the series.
Ponting aiming to peak at Champions Trophy
Denly reached his second one-day 50 when a thin edge ran beyond third man for his eighth four of the innings, but fell soon after when he was slow to respond to Bopara's call for a quick single and run out by two feet.
Two wickets in three balls saw the departure of Bopara and Shah, and n Morgan soon joined them back in the pavilion when he tried to cut a ball from Lee which was far too close to his body and was caught behind.
Collingwood and Matt Prior steadied the England ship by adding 21 vital runs before the latter punched a catch to Ponting at cover.
But Bresnan showed no sign of nerves as he emphatically pulled a short ball from Lee for four through mid-wicket before Hilfenhaus overstepped for the sixth time at the start of the 41st over to end the match in anti-climactic fashion.
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