The seats on the aeroplane had been provisionally booked, the steel removed from the kitchen drawer and a huge raspberry was awaiting the England cricket team on their return from Australia when they produced a second consecutive batting collapse in Adelaide 12 days ago. But as Michael Vaughan said after watching his side's thrilling 14-run victory over New Zealand here in Brisbane yesterday, a result that takes his team into a best-of-three final against Australia, "a week is a long time in cricket".
And boy how it is. For the second time in five days England were unrecognisable from the shabby, ill-disciplined and demoralised outfit who were dismissed for 120 and 110 on one of the best batting pitches in the world. England's batting yesterday, led by a rejuvenated Paul Collingwood and Andrew Strauss, was thoughtful, purposeful and direct. For a second consecutive time the team played to their game plan and posted a competitive score. It is no coincidence that an England batsman has struck a hundred in each of their last two games and they have won both.
England's total of 270 for 7 was then, bar the initial 13 overs of New Zealand's reply, defended with vigour, determination and skill. England were outstanding in the field and Andrew Flintoff, free from the responsibilities of captaincy, was the colossus who set the perfect example to the rest of the team. He threw his heart and soul into every ball he sent down. These were not the acts of a man who wanted to leave Australia with people questioning his pedigree. Collingwood and Monty Panesar played their part too, depriving highly rated opponents of the run-scoring opportunities they wanted. And Liam Plunkett came back strongly after a dreadful opening spell.
In the build-up to the match there had been unsubstantiated suggestions that those members of the England team who had been in Australia since 5 November would be quite happy to lose and return home, but those comments must now be treated with scorn. Collingwood, Strauss, Flintoff and Panesar were the players whose endeavour created the victory and each of them has been in Australia from the start.
Vaughan scored nought and was discomforted by the hamstring injury that has restricted his appearances here, but his captaincy was magnificent. When England were shaky he remained calm and in control, and his decision-making was faultless. His left leg is a concern and he must be a major doubt for Friday's first final, but England are a far, far better team with him at the helm.
It would be wrong to over-egg England's chances of winning this one-day series or the World Cup, which starts next month, but qualification for the finals has prevented Vaughan's side from returning home as the losers the locals would like to portray them.
England's total was built around Collingwood's industrious 106. He had endured a poor time since scoring a memorable double hundred in the second Ashes Test in Adelaide and his confidence looked to be in tatters. Yet the 30-year-old dragged himself out of the void that had engulfed him to produce an innings of character and control. Strauss provided Collingwood with the support he needed and the pair put on 103 for the third wicket.
Strauss fell with the stage set for Flintoff to come in and create mayhem, but on this occasion the big man failed to provide his side with the fireworks they were looking for. His departure left Collingwood with the responsibility of guiding England to a respectable score and he did just that, bringing up his third one-day hundred.
On a good pitch England's total was far from unattainable. New Zealand had posted scores greater than this in their last three innings. If England were to restrict the Black Caps they needed to begin well, but Plunkett conceded nine wides in his opening over. Plunkett and Sajid Mahmood sent down further wayward deliveries, and Flintoff even leaked seven runs in his first over. New Zealand, on 81 without loss after 13 overs, had got the flyer they wanted. But the game changed when Lou Vincent slogged Panesar to Flintoff at mid-off in his second over. Batting became a far harder task as Flintoff and Panesar took control. New Zealand began to play a cagey game and two runs were scored in four overs.
Their objective was to see off Flintoff and make the runs up off the lesser bowlers. But the lesser bowlers, along with Collingwood, returned strong and the Black Caps never regained the initiative. Stephen Fleming, the New Zealand captain, scored a dogged hundred, but he was let down by his team-mates.
One-day series finals: Australia v England: First Final: Melbourne, Thursday, (starts Fri 3.15am GMT); Second Final: Sydney, Saturday (Sun 3.15am GMT); Third Final: Adelaide, Tuesday (Wed 3.15am GMT).
Scoreboard from Brisbane
England won the toss
E C Joyce c McCullum b Franklin 26
*M P Vaughan b Bond 0
I R Bell c Styris b Bond 12
A J Strauss b Styris 55
P D Collingwood b Bond 106
A Flintoff c Franklin b Bond 17
J W M Dalrymple not out 29
ÝP A Nixon b Gillespie 0
L E Plunkett not out 15
Extras (lb4 w3 nb3) 10
Total: (for 7, 50 overs) 270
Fall: 1-1 2-28 3-52 4-155 5-191 6-250 7-251.
Did not bat: S I Mahmood, M S Panesar.
Bowling: Franklin 8-1-45-1; Bond 10-2-46-4; Gillespie 10-0-52-1; Oram 7-0-36-0; Vettori 6-0-37-0; Styris 9-0-50-1.
L Vincent c Flintoff b Panesar 31
*S P Fleming c Nixon b Flintoff 106
P G Fulton c Bell b Plunkett 12
R L Taylor run out 25
S B Styris c Panesar b Collingwood 16
J D P Oram c Nixon b Plunkett 5
ÝB B McCullum b Plunkett 2
D L Vettori c Vaughan b Collingwood 10
J E C Franklin not out 22
S E Bond not out 8
Extras (b1 lb3 w15) 19
Total: (for 8, 50 overs) 256
Fall: 1-81 2-107 3-169 4-203 5-208 6-212 7-224 8-232.
Did not bat: M R Gillespie.
Bowling: Plunkett 10-0-60-3; Mahmood 10-0-62-0; Flintoff 10-3-37-1; Collingwood 10-0-46-2; Panesar 8-1-38-1; Dalrymple 2-0-9-0.
England won by 14 runs.
Umpires: D J Harper (Aus) and I L Howell (SA).
New Zealand 8/2/6/0/0/9/-0.01
Australia and England qualify for best-of-three series final