England had spent 90 days on this vast continent and travelled more than 23,000 miles attempting to get the better of their greatest cricketing rivals before yesterday when, under the floodlights of the Sydney Cricket Ground, they belatedly achieved their goal. It would be wrong to get too excited over England's 92-run win over Australia - a one-day victory over a complacent opponent does little to make up for a 5-0 Ashes whitewash - but how joyous it must have felt for those players and supporters who have suffered week after week of criticism, ridicule and torment in this pommie-bashing country.
The win was even more satisfying for England because it was achieved through the performances of inexperienced players. Ed Joyce led the way with a magnificent 107. The Irish-born left-hander oozed composure and class during his 142-ball innings, and his 111-run partnership with Ian Bell (51) provided the team with the perfect platform to post the highly competitive score of 292 for 7, England's highest at the SCG.
And how perfect was the first ball of Australia's reply? Liam Plunkett will never bowl a better inswinging yorker than the one that knocked back Adam Gilchrist's middle stump. Plunkett finished with the excellent figures of 3 for 24 and he received aggressive and impressive support from Sajid Mahmood, who took 2 for 38. There are rumours that Darren Gough could be in line for a surprise World Cup recall - how desperate selectors can become - but England do not need an ageing quick to lead their attack when their young guns fire like this.
Just to prove that England can field too, Bell sealed an improbable victory when he calmly ran Shaun Tait out with a direct hit. England have spent much time in Australia attempting to motivate themselves in a huddle before the start of a day's play but the wait for the third umpire's decision must have provided them with their most enjoyable get-together in months.
"Yeah, that felt all right," said Andrew Flintoff, England's overjoyed, yet understated, captain. "It's been a long time coming. It is nice to get a win as one-day skipper, and hopefully we can move forward as a team.
"We have shown signs of improvement over the last week and we knew this game could be our last opportunity to beat Australia. We knew we needed to put a better performance in to stay in the competition and we did that. The win does not make up for the disappointments earlier on in the tour but we are still in this tournament.
"As good as this win is, and I'm sure we will enjoy it, Tuesday's match against New Zealand is now huge. We showed signs of improvement here and we need to continue that when we play against New Zealand in Brisbane. One of the really pleasing things was that it was the young lads who won the game for us. Joycey, Ian Bell, Sajid Mahmood and Liam have not got a great deal of experience and it gives us a lot of heart to see them carry us through here. It shows that these lads can play."
There must have been times in the past month when Joyce privately questioned his decision to qualify for England and not travel to the World Cup with Ireland. Joyce played a leading role in helping the country of his birth qualify for next month's tournament and before Tuesday's 66 against New Zealand in Perth there was a real chance he would be sat at home watching the event unfold.
But those thoughts disappeared as he nonchalantly tucked into the world champions. Joyce was dropped twice but Glenn McGrath was pulled off a length for four, Stuart Clark was hacked over mid-on and the 95mph Tait was slapped through the covers.
Joyce brought his hundred up with a top-edged pull at Tait that rolled safely to the fine-leg boundary. Yet there was none of the uncontrolled histrionics that some players use to celebrate special moments. A radiant Joyce acknowledged the applause from the England dressing room then the crowd before getting on with his batting.
Tait eventually got him when a mis-timed pull lobbed to mid-wicket but by then the 28-year-old had done his job. Jamie Dalrymple cracked a quickfire 30 as the Aussies were put to the sword and 89 came in England's final 10 overs.
"My hundreds with Ireland do not compare to this," said Joyce. "It was an amazing feeling doing it here in Sydney against Australia. It is probably the best feeling you will get in cricket. My innings against New Zealand the other day helped relax me and I had a bit of luck early on. One hundred does not make a career but hopefully there will be more in the future."
The result ended Australia's hopes of a clean sweep and they will enter next week's finals with concerns over Ricky Ponting and Andrew Symonds. Ponting has a hip injury and Symonds had to retire hurt after pulling his biceps. England's cricketers are unlikely to lose much sleep.
England won toss
E C Joyce c Bracken b Tait 107
M B Loye c Bracken b McGrath 29
I R Bell c Gilchrist b McGrath 51
*A Flintoff lbw b White 3
A J Strauss c Clark b Bracken 26
J W M Dalrymple run out 30
ÝP A Nixon c Hodge b Tait 4
R S Bopara not out 7
L E Plunkett not out 10
Extras (lb5 w19 nb1) 25
Total (for 7, 50 overs) 292
Fall: 1-58 2-169 3-179 4-222 5-256 6-261 7-274.
Did not bat: S I Mahmood, M S Panesar.
Bowling: Tait 10-0-68-2; Bracken 9-1-53-1; Clark 10-0-55-0; McGrath 10-0-51-2; Clarke 4-0-18-0; Symonds 2-0-16-0; White 5-1-26-1.
*ÝA C Gilchrist b Plunkett 0
M L Hayden c Dalrymple b Mahmood 51
B J Hodge b Mahmood 1
M J Clarke c Nixon b Plunkett 18
A Symonds retd hurt 39
M E K Hussey b Bopara 6
C L White c Nixon b Flintoff 13
N W Bracken b Panesar 21
S R Clark not out 15
G D McGrath lbw b Plunkett 1
S W Tait run out 11
Extras (lb8 w16) 24
Total (for 9, 38.5 overs) 200
Fall: 1-0 2-4 3-45 4-116 5-137 6-160 7-180 8-187 9-200
Bowling: Plunkett 9.5-1-24-3; Mahmood 7-0-38-2; Flintoff 8-0-47-1; Panesar 10-0-64-1; Bopara 4-0-19-1.
Man of the match: E C Joyce (Eng).
Umpires: D J Harper (Aus) and I L Howell (SA).Reuse content