Debutant Nicole Bolton struck a stunning century as Australia kept the Women’s Ashes alive by securing a 26-run victory in the second one-day international.
Wins in the sole Test and opening ODI left England on eight points and needing just one more triumph to take the series.
They were not able to secure that in a day/nighter at the MCG, however, as Australia stayed in the hunt after racking up 266 for seven, Bolton leading the way with 124.
England battled valiantly in response yet were ultimately dismissed for 240, meaning they now lead 8-2 and need to avoid defeat in one of the remaining four games, the final 50-over encounter at Hobart on Sunday and three Twenty20s, to retain their crown.
With many expecting a momentum-fuelled England to wrap up their second Ashes triumph in six months, Australia required a special performance from someone.
And they got it from the unlikeliest source as opener Bolton, making her bow in any international format, delivered a stunning innings, albeit she was dropped in the second over at slip and on 28 at midwicket.
Responding to Danni Hazell quickly ousting her partner at the top order the order, Meg Lanning, Bolton put on a restorative 95 with Jess Cameron.
That stand was ended by Hazell, who had Cameron taken at midwicket for 44, but Alex Blackwell ensured Australia’s momentum continued with 55.
Her effort, combined with Bolton becoming the first Australia woman to reach three figures on ODI debut, ensured the home side posted a huge score just when they needed one.
An already-difficult challenge became harder when skipper Charlotte Edwards was castled by Holly Ferling off the innings’ first ball.
In-form Lydia Greenway, promoted to number three, did not fare much better, trapped lbw for three by Ellyse Perry after struggling to get going.
Sarah Taylor and Heather Knight responded impressively, however, as England got themselves back into the game.
Even after Knight was stumped for 55 off Julie Hunter, with the total on 97, the tourists looked in decent shape as Taylor was well set.
However, Bolton was to again spectacularly intervene when running out the star batter for 63 – a dismissal that heralded a clatter of wickets.
Even amid those, England had a sniff as Natalie Sciver struck a valiant fifty to keep their hopes alive.
However, she ultimately ran out of partners and was the last batter out for 57, Erin Osborne – who finished with 3-49 – claiming the final wicket.