England's wonderful summer is not quite complete, even if yesterday's emphatic six-wicket victory over Australia highlighted just how far Michael Vaughan's side have travelled in the past seven months.
England's wonderful summer is not quite complete, even if yesterday's emphatic six-wicket victory over Australia highlighted just how far Michael Vaughan's side have travelled in the past seven months. It will be crowned at The Oval on Saturday should England win their first major one-day tournament, the ICC Champions' Trophy.
But even if Vaughan's irresistible team were to lose to the victors of today's second semi-final between Pakistan and the West Indies, this summer will still go down as one of the best in the history of English cricket. In Test matches England have been supreme, winning seven consecutive games, and following this victory they are now showing élan in the shortened form of the game.
Vaughan's calm, reassuring influence in the dressing-room has been one of the main reasons why his players now feel they can express themselves. But it was the captain's all-round work on the field that allowed England to record their first one-day victory over Australia for five and a half years.
Vaughan's innings of 86, his highest in one-day internationals, was superb, guiding his team to the brink of overwhelming Australia's healthy total of 259. Indeed the only disappointment, on an almost perfect day, was that he did not go on to post his first one-day hundred, or be present at the crease when the winning runs were hit.
With seven wickets in hand England required just 33 when Vaughan top-edged a pull at Brett Lee. By then Australia were looking despondent. Ricky Ponting tried everything to turn the match his way, but each bowling change was met with controlled and responsible batting. The manner in which England's batsmen handled this once fearsome quartet will have concerned the Australia captain and it will be interesting to see how many return to these shores in nine months' time.
But enough of Australia's problems. This was a day for England to savour. The honour of scoring the winning runs fell to Paul Collingwood when he pulled Lee for four. The ecstatic reaction of Andrew Strauss, whose unbeaten 52 was as good an innings as he has played for England, showed just how much this victory meant to a team that continue to grow in stature.
It would be foolish to suggest that "the Ashes are coming home", even though it became the favourite song of the England supporters. And Vaughan admitted this after the match.
"I don't think the outcome of this game will have any effect on the Ashes next summer," he said. "That is five-day cricket, it is totally different. But we are just delighted to have played well on a very big stage."
Vaughan arrived at the crease following the early loss of Vikram Solanki, and nobody in a disappointing crowd of 10,000 would have been expecting him to produce such a display. Before this, his one-day form had been dreadful, highlighted by the atrocious shot he played against Sri Lanka on Friday.
The memory of this appeared to focus his mind. Vaughan did not take any risks in the early part of his innings, he just waited for the bad ball to come along.
Marcus Trescothick ensured that England scored at the required rate with a belligerent performance. On seven, the left-hander was fortunate to survive a close lbw appeal from Glenn McGrath, but once he was in he set about the fast bowler, striking four boundaries in one over. No bowler escaped punishment in his 88-ball innings and it was a surprise to everyone when he was bowled on 81.
Vaughan inflicted similar damage on Lee, clipping, pulling and driving him for four six times in a golden 13-ball spell.
"I felt that I owed the team a few runs," Vaughan admitted. "Stats don't lie and my record is not good, but I firmly believe I will turn things around in the next year. I felt like I was batting with a straw for the first 20 balls, yet I ended up getting a score.
"I like the challenge of Australia, they play the game like I think it should be played. Over the last 10 years they have changed the game. We are still some way off them in terms of expertise and experience, and this has to be my most satisfying one-day win. To beat a truly outstanding Australia in a semi-final is a very impressive achievement."
Australia's innings began watchfully until Adam Gilchrist and Matthew Hayden realised this slow, dead pitch contained far fewer demons than anyone expected. Gilchrist cut Darren Gough for four in his third over before Hayden stepped down the pitch and hoicked the fast bowler over square leg for six. Harmison and Gough gained revenge for the early punishment, but it was the introduction of Ashley Giles which changed the course of Australia's innings.
Vaughan brought his spinner on as soon as the fielding restrictions relented, and seeing the difficulties Giles caused, he brought himself on to bowl. It was a wise decision because scoring runs was easiest against the quickest bowlers.
It is 48 games since Vaughan last bowled a full allocation of 10 overs in a one-day match but his and Giles's spin helped to check the naturally attacking instincts of Ponting and Damien Martyn. And after several overs of pushing, their patience cracked. Ponting chipped Giles to long-on, and later Martyn slogged Vaughan to deep midwicket.
Darren Lehmann was bowled by Vaughan, Andrew Symonds foolishly ran himself out. These and Gough's two late wickets prevented Australia from posting a total of 280, but this would have been in England's range on a day when they could do no wrong.Reuse content