Australia were immediately set on course to run down England's 269 for seven in the first one-day international in Melbourne thanks to openers Aaron Finch and David Warner.
England's bowlers created chances, most notably Chris Jordan, but the Australian pair raced the score along to 116 without loss from 20 overs.
England did appear to have Warner, though, only for him to survive a contentious moment when Jos Buttler claimed a catch behind, which the opener initially accepted.
Television replays were not as clear-cut, after the standing umpires called for a review, and TV official Kumar Dharmasena decided to call Warner back after he had already made most of his way to the boundary's edge.
It was a moment to sum up England's flagging fortunes on this tour.
Captain Alastair Cook had begun the day by failing to survive the first over, edging behind off Clint McKay (three for 44), and a laboured start followed to suggest England were still struck by their Ashes malaise.
The tourists managed just 28 for two in the opening 10-over powerplay - during which Joe Root also scratched away for three from 23 balls before incorrectly reviewing an lbw call.
Gary Ballance's maiden half-century and a quickfire 50 from Eoin Morgan helped repair some of the the damage of the stuttering beginning and post a score that was greater than all but two of England's Ashes totals.
It still did not appear enough as Finch (63) and Warner (46) took early flight. Jordan could have had both, however, inside the first 10 overs.
Ballance should have held on at mid-off when he got two hands to a well-hit drive when Finch was on just eight.
Warner had also failed to reach double figures when he hammered back a return chance Jordan did well just to get his left hand too.
Searching for their first win of a miserable tour, England's luck was clearly out as chances fell out of reach of fielders and, when it appeared a catch had carried, it was over-ruled with Warner on 22.
Even when Finch brought up his 50, from 47 balls, it owed to more England calamity.
His straight drive cannoned off the stumps and out of the reach of a diving Jordan to reach the ropes, and a ragged performance was starting to set in.
After winning the toss Cook lasted just four balls before edging behind from McKay, after he had already survived a strong lbw shout from the first delivery of the day.
Root simply failed to get going before burning England's review when McKay - whose initial five-over spell was two for 11 - swung one into his front pad.
Bell showed some fluency in reaching 41, before missing a slog sweep off Xavier Doherty, and it took Morgan - one of four England players included who were not involved in the 5-0 whitewash - to provide some urgency alongside Ballance in an 83-run stand for the fourth wicket.
His half-century came from 46 balls, but from his next delivery Morgan picked out Nathan Coulter-Nile, one of two fielders at cover, off Glenn Maxwell's gentle spin.
Morgan's exit was untimely, just four overs before the batting powerplay, during which England again struggled to impose themselves.
They scored 24 runs during it and also lost Ravi Bopara when he could only help a Coulter-Nile short ball through to wicketkeeper Brad Haddin.
Ballance continued to be the guiding force and brought up his first England half-century, in any format, from 69 balls.
Stokes was sent in ahead of Buttler - left to his 'finishing' duties - and smacked 21 from 20 balls before being bowled slogging at James Faulkner.
Ballance survived a drop chance on 74 when Doherty put him down at third man off McKay, but when the same set of circumstances played out three balls later the Australia spinner held on.
When Buttler (34 not out) was inserted he provided the hitting England required, with some help from Tim Bresnan, as they took 40 from the last four overs.