England return home today without the prize they wanted most - the Ashes - but with a piece of silverware and reputations enhanced following a remarkable second victory over Australia yesterday in the finals of the triangular one-day series.
The 34-run defeat of the world champions, a win that took England into an unassailable 2-0 lead in the best-of-threefinals, does not come close to making up for the disappointment of the Ashes whitewash but, even so, it will be remembered as one of the greatest turnarounds in the team's one-day history.
Who would have imagined England winning this Tri-nations tournament a fortnight ago after two inept performances in Adelaide? On possibly the best batting pitch in the world, Andrew Flintoff's floundering side were dismissed for 120 and 110 in consecutive games against New Zealand and Australia.
The second of these ignominious day-night displays, against Australia on Australia Day, resulted in the game ending before the floodlights had been turned on. It appeared English cricket could not fall any lower.
Yet somehow the team managed to metamorphose from a decrepit and lost monster into a vibrant, focused and heavenly creature that suddenly started making the best side in the world look ordinary.
The transformation was remarkable, especially when one considers how many of the team's most influential players were missing, and it gave England their first major overseas one-day success since the Champions Trophy in Sharjah 10 years ago.
England remain outsiders for the World Cup but Michael Vaughan, Kevin Pietersen, James Anderson and Jon Lewis are likely to return for next month's tournament and the team will travel to the Caribbean with unexpected optimism
So what was the secret to their success here? Was it words of inspiration from Flintoff, Michael Vaughan or Duncan Fletcher, the coach? Or was it simply down to a change in policy or tactics? Neither. Flintoff, Vaughan and Fletcher never lost hope. The triumvirate remained upbeat and supportive throughout and, contrary to some reports, the team continued to work hard.
England's rise began when two of their younger players stepped out of the darkness and made a statement. Ed Joyce kick-started the charge with a brilliant century against Australia in Sydney 10 days ago, and Liam Plunkett made the world champions look human when he bowled Adam Gilchrist with the first ball of the hosts' reply. He finished with the excellent figures of 3 for 24.
Victory gave the side renewed confidence. It made senior players like Paul Collingwood, Andrew Strauss and Flintoff sit up and look at themselves a little more closely. It helped them to believe. If Joyce, playing in only his ninth one-day international, could get the better of the Australians, why shouldn't they?
Collingwood responded heroically, dragging himself out of the gutter to produce three outstanding displays, performances that deservedly won him consecutive man-of-the-match awards. As the nuggety right- hander calmly collected his runs yesterday at a wet and stunned SCG, the silence was such it was hard to believe there were more than 40,000 spectators in the stadium.
In comparison to Collingwood's previous two innings of 106 and 120 not out, yesterday's 70 may seem something of a failure, yet it was equal in stature.
The 30-year-old arrived at the crease with his side perilously placed at 86 for 3 and the Australians searching for a kill, but he repelled their snarling and provocation.
Joyce had been well caught by Brad Hodge at mid-wicket to give Glenn McGrath one of two wickets in his last match on Australian soil before retirement. The second, with the SCG on crowd on its feet showing appreciation for an outstanding career, came off the last ball of England's innings when Paul Nixon was caught on the deep mid-wicket boundary.
Malachy Loye proved that he possesses more than one shot and had moved on to 45 before needlessly running himself out attempting a foolish single off the first ball after a rain delay. Strauss quickly followed him back to the pavilion when he wafted limply at a Nathan Bracken delivery and was caught behind.
England's plight deepened five overs later when Michael Hussey, fielding at backward point, brilliantly ran out Ian Bell. Collingwood had called Bell for the quick single off Brad Hogg and he would have made his ground but for Hussey's acrobatics.
Collingwood found an ally in Flintoff and the pair guided England surreptitiously through the middle overs of their innings. Ricky Ponting changed his bowlers and fields yet he could not prevent the pair trundling along at almost six runs an over. Just five boundaries were struck during a 97-run partnership, a figure that highlights how skilfully they manoeuvred the ball.
However, England failed to capitalise fully on the pair's endeavour, scoring only 59 runs off the final 10 overs. The momentum fell when Flintoff was brilliantly caught and bowled by Brett Lee, and Collingwood was snaffled attempting to reverse sweep Bracken.
At a venue where the highest successful run chase is 260, passing 246 was always going to be a challenge for Australia. And so it proved. England's bowling was far from spectacular but the occasional beauty followed bad balls and regular wickets were taken.
Sajid Mahmood dismissed Matthew Hayden with a well-disguised slower ball and Plunkett trimmed the edge of Ponting's bat with a ripper of a leg-cutter.
The inclement weather also helped England's cause, removing the teams from the pitch when Gilchrist was looking dangerous.
The failure of the groundstaff to get the pitch covered quickly allowed it to juice up and Plunkett exploited the advantage beautifully. Gilchrist was bowled by the first ball after the break and, three balls later, Michael Clarke edged an away-swinger through to Nixon.
Flintoff removed the dangerous Michael Hussey as England scampered through their overs in an effort to reach the 20-over mark, the moment when the possibility of a no-result would disappear, before further rain fell. The tactic failed as another shower descended with Australia on 79 for 5 in 16.2 overs.
Yet play resumed 35 minutes later and England crossed the line of no return. Hodge and Shane Watson gave Australia brief hope with a lively partnership before Jamie Dalrymple held on to a magnificent one-handed catch at backward point. With Watson went Australia's last hope.
Further rain took the players from the field and the match ended as the Ashes had in 2005 with both teams in their respective dressing rooms. To Flintoff and Fletcher the moment will have felt almost as sweet but, as is the case in one-day cricket, the feeling does not last quite as long.
Steep climb from rock bottom
England have won their last four one-day internationals. Before that they had won just two out of nine games stretching back to the Champions Trophy in India last autumn:
11 February Commonwealth Bank Triangular Series Finals (Sydney) Beat Australia by 34 runs (D/L)
9 Feb CB Triangular Series Finals (Melbourne) Beat Australia by four wickets
6 Feb CB Triangular Series (Brisbane) Beat New Zealand by 14 runs
2 Feb CB Triangular Series (Sydney) Beat Australia by 92 runs
30 January CB Triangular Series (Perth) Lost to New Zealand by 58 runs
26 Jan CB Triangular Series (Adelaide) Lost to Australia by nine wickets
23 Jan CB Triangular Series (Adelaide) Lost to New Zealand by 90 runs
19 Jan CB Triangular Series (Brisbane) Lost to Australia by four wickets
15 Jan CB Triangular Series (Hobart) Beat New Zealand by three wickets
12 Jan CB Triangular Series (Melbourne) Lost to Australia by eight wickets
28 October Champions Trophy (Ahmedabad) Beat West Indies by three wickets
21 Oct Champions Trophy (Jaipur) Lost to Australia by six wickets
15 Oct Champions Trophy (Jaipur) Lost to India by four wickets
England won toss
E C Joyce c Hodge b McGrath 15
M B Loye run out 45
I R Bell run out 26
A J Strauss c Gilchrist b Bracken 6
P D Collingwood c Gilchrist b Bracken 70
*A Flintoff c & b Lee 42
J W M Dalrymple run out 5
ÝP A Nixon c Hodge b McGrath 6
L E Plunkett not out 8
Extras (b5 lb4 w9 nb5) 23
Total 8 wkts (50 overs) 246
Fall: 1-34 2-79 3-86 4-112 5-209 6-231 7-233 8-246.
Did not bat: S I Mahmood, M S Panesar.
Bowling: Lee 10-0-53-1; Bracken 10-1-38-2; McGrath 10-0-41-2; Watson 8-0-46-0; Hussey 2-0-12-0; Hogg 10-0-47-0.
ÝA C Gilchrist b Plunkett 20
M L Hayden c Coll'wood b Mahmood 5
*R T Ponting c Strauss b Plunkett 7
M J Clarke c Nixon b Plunkett 0
B J Hodge c Bell b Dalrymple 49
M E K Hussey c Strauss b Flintoff 0
S R Watson c Dalrymple b Coll'wood 37
G B Hogg c Flintoff b Coll'wood 10
B Lee not out 10
N W Bracken not out 3
Extras (lb2 w6 nb3) 11
Total 8 wkts (27 overs) 152
Fall: 1-25 2-33 3-39 4-40 5-63 6-109 7-132 8-139.
Did not bat: G D McGrath.
Bowling: Plunkett 6-0-43-3; Mahmood 6-0-31-1; Flintoff 5-1-10-1; Panesar 2-0-15-0; Dalrymple 4-0-25-1; Collingwood 4-0-26-2.
England won by 34 runs under Duckworth-Lewis method and win three-match ODI series 2-0.
Umpires: S J Davis (Aus) and I L Howell (SA).Reuse content