The tourists had looked to be in trouble after slumping to 189-6 in the 39th over but rebounded in spectacular fashion with Buttler belting six boundaries and four sixes to finish 100 not out from just 83 balls, while Chris Woakes chipped in with five fours and cleared the rope twice to remain unbeaten on 53 off only 36 deliveries.
The Australians did not help themselves in the field, bowling 13 wides and dropping three catches, including one off Buttler when he was on 70.
The Englishman had another scare on 97 when he was given out leg before wicket on the first ball of the last over but the decision was correctly overturned on review after replays showed the ball hit the edge of his bat.
Buttler took a single off the next ball and did not get back on strike until the final delivery, but managed to squeeze Starc’s attempted yorker into the legside field and scramble through to reach his hundred, leaping into the air with excitement. England made 302-6 and Australia fell short on 28
“Jos was probably the difference between the sides,” said England captain Eoin Morgan. “On a two-paced wicket, he paced it to perfection, played the anchor until about five or six overs out.
“This is one of the best wins from this group. With our bowling efforts, everybody was required to give a bit extra and everyone did. With the ball we were outstanding.”
The century was his first against Australia but the slowest of his five ODIs, clocking in at 83 balls.
“Great win, probably the best we’ve had,” said Buttler. “We’ve championed this way of playing, even if you lose wickets. Chris and I tried to push on, we were looking at 270 but we had a couple of good overs. Against Cummins, Starc, etc it was very special.”
After being thumped 4-0 in the Ashes Test series, England’s limited-overs players have now produced a stunning turnaround to beat the Australians three times in a week, outplaying the home team both when chasing and defending big totals.
Needing to win Sunday’s match to keep the series alive, Australia brought their best fast bowlers together for the first time since the Ashes but it was to no avail as England’s middle-order pounded Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazelwood and Pat Cummins at the death to post an imposing total of 302 for six.
Australia’s reply began poorly when Dave Warner and Cameron White both went cheaply but Steve Smith’s men were thrown an unexpected lifeline when England paceman Liam Plunkett pulled a hamstring in his second over and was forced off the field, leaving the tourists a bowler short.
Most of the Australians made starts but none was able to go on and post a big number to match Buttler’s electrifying rate and they finished on 286-6.
Aaron Finch, who made centuries in each of the first two matches, top scored with 62, while Marcus Stoinis (56) and Mitchell Marsh (55) also made half-centuries after Smith was controversially given out for 45 when caught behind by Buttler although replays were inconclusive as to whether the ball had carried through.
“Disappointing tonight,” a rueful Smith said. “I thought the way we bowled in the first 45 overs was good, but Jos played exceptionally well, Woakesy too, but we bowled poorly at the end, can’t do that to a guy like Jos.
“We were chasing probably 30 too many, batted well but not enough to get over the line. Our one-day cricket hasn’t been up to scratch, we’ve got to find ways to win against quality opposition.”