As a statement of intent it was as chilling as the Manchester air. England's one-day defeats may have dipped further to nine in a row, but the manner in which Jason Gillespie and Glenn McGrath demolished England's top five batsmen for just 40 runs will have caused real fears for the Ashes series next month.
Chasing 212 from 44 overs, after rain had caused Australia's total of 208 for 7 off 48 overs to be amended by the Duckworth-Lewis method, England were hit by a wrecking ball of enormous power, losing a low-scoring match by 125 runs after being bowled out for 86.
It was the lowest one-day score in their history, worse than the 93 against Australia at Headingley in 1975. As the pointless hosts of this NatWest series, they will now have to sit and watch as Australia take on Pakistan in the final at Lord's in eight days' time.
Gillespie, in his first match since suffering a hamstring injury, bowled with real venom, extracting both lift and movement. His first victim, after McGrath's nagging accuracy had snared Nick Knight, was Alec Stewart, who, misjudging the length, spooned his pull shot to mid-on.
In contrast to last summer's two centuries and a ninety in this competition, the England captain is having a shocking time with just 39 runs from four matches. Coming in at No 3, to the theme tune of the "Great Escape," he made a duck, departing only to some ironic jeers from the capacity crowd.
Next ball, Gillespie nipped one back through the gate to knock back Michael Vaughan's leg-stump. It was the Yorkshire player's second successive duck.
Owais Shah, still a fledgling at his level, cannot have seen the field that greeted him in four-day cricket, let alone a one-day match, after Steve Waugh surrounded him with five slips and a short-leg. He looked relatively composed until Gillespie nipped one back and the umpire Jeremy Lloyds gave him out caught by third slip off the inside-edge.
With Marcus Trescothick bowled next over by McGrath going around the wicket, all hope of England making a game of it vanished and the rest of the batting capitulated to a mixture of Shane Warne's leg-spin and Andrew Symonds' off-breaks. Before the match, Waugh had indicated Australia had a plan for Trescothick. He did not reveal what it was, but this angle of attack, cramping the left-hander for room, was probably it.
Australia's approach to one-day cricket is not to take a backward step. It is a high-risk policy that can backfire, though, on a pitch allowing lavish sideways movement for seam and spin, the bowlers made good the indiscretions made by the batsmen earlier in the day.
Once again, Waugh's influence on proceedings was crucial. The Australian captain's bat may lack a sponsor at present but that has not prevented him wielding it with his customary brilliance. Arriving at the crease with his side struggling on 27 for 3, he made 64 out of 208 for 7 from 48 overs after rain cut short the innings.
With England's bowlers displaying more gumption than of late, though not as much bite as their opponents, the visitors lost their first wicket to the fourth ball of the innings. But for Waugh and Damien Martyn, who made an unbeaten 51, they might not have made 150, after an outbreak of rash strokes afflicted the middle order.
Taken in this context, after Australia had won the toss and opted to bat, it was a true captain's knock and vintage Waugh, being robust with a memorable aftertaste. It also stopped the rot, following as it did the new-ball breakthrough by Darren Gough and Andy Caddick, the latter dismissing Matthew Hayden off a top-edged hook in the opening over.
Adam Gilchrist has not hit form yet and followed in the eighth over, his cut off Gough to backward point had frustration writ large in its hesitant arc.
Gough's next wicket, which came in his second spell, was Waugh and, even though the ball would have missed leg stump, the lbw brought him level with the 145 one-day wickets taken for England by Ian Botham. For a record-watcher like Gough, it meant another name to be crossed off on the hit-list he keeps in his bag.
On current form, the most important scalp was Ricky Ponting's. While others scratched about, Ponting eased his way to 21 off 24 balls and looked set for another big score when Caddick forced him to edge to second slip, where Knight took a superb catch low to his left.
With Alan Mullally joining Gough and Caddick on two wickets apiece, it was easy to overlook Ben Hollioake's contribution. Although his 10-over spell was aided by a softening ball (eventually changed in the 38th over), the Surrey all-rounder bowled with intelligence, a faculty he has not always been credited with.Reuse content