No white flag from Australia and no whitewash for England. Perhaps it was presumptuous to think that any shade of pale was possible: Australia may be eminently beatable these days but they tend not to go in for hammerings.
Hence, rather than becoming 4-0 with the mother of all one-day results to play for at Lord's on Saturday, the NatWest series now stands at 3-1 to England after the tourists won by 78 runs at The Oval last night. There were 7.2 overs left when England lost their last wicket. Now that was a hammering. It was predictable, however, only in hindsight.
England fell as short as they did because they lost wickets too regularly in their pursuit of 291 to win, which would have been the largest successful chase for nine years and their third-highest of all. In some ways, it was probably beneficial for them to be reminded so pertinently that they remain a work in progress. Australia won because their blue riband middle order turned up at last and their bowling attack has been given a cutting edge. They, in turn, ought not to make the mistake of assuming they are anywhere near back to their peak.
If it was the old firm of Ricky Ponting and Michael Clarke, captain and vice-captain, old master and younger master, Punter and Pup, scoring 92 and 99 not out respectively, who laid some solid groundwork for the tourists, it was ably enhanced by some persistent seam bowling by Shaun Tait and Ryan Harris. Tait is exceedingly fast and if Harris does not have the wheels he has the will and the way, garnering five wickets in an innings for the third time in only 15 one-day matches. Harris deserved his man-of-the-match award.
England's response – and they will have rated their chances on a flat pitch after choosing to field – never found a firm base. They matched Australia's run rate but kept losing key men. Only Michael Yardy made a half-century, his first for England, achieved with some (though not enough) command.
Sooner or later, Australia's vaunted batsmen were bound to rain on England's parade. Ponting has made it his business, nay his mission, to do so, sometimes from a great height, since he made his maiden Test hundred in his first innings against them 13 years ago. For most of the latter part of that period, Clarke has been a notoriously able apprentice.
Together, they assembled a third-wicket partnership of 155 for the tourists. The stand was largely compiled with the cool but clinical determination of men who had no intention of being on the receiving end of a 5-0 whitewash against their oldest enemy. Not if they could help it. The only surprise was that neither man managed to reach a hundred. Clarke was rather stranded on 99 at the close of the innings, having failed to accelerate quite as he might. Ponting, who had become the third player to pass 13,000 one-day international runs when he reached 35, was within eight of what seemed inevitably as though it would be his 30th one-day international hundred, his sixth against England, when he was cut off in his prime, mistiming the first ball of the batting powerplay. Maybe it was another sign of this new England.
Australia may have been disappointed not to make 300 after this platform had been established. That they made as many as they did was down to a delightful late cameo from Steven Smith, who hit four vintage fours from the seven balls he faced. Smith looks like one to watch, an Australian who could inflict damage on the Ponting-Clarke scale in years to come.
Not all England's ground fielding was as adept as it had been in the first three matches. Jimmy Anderson, one of their safest fielders, dropped Clarke on five at short and still surveying the scene. But the use by the seam bowlers, especially Stuart Broad, of the slow ball bouncer and the yorker, was exemplary. England are on the verge of becoming a team to be reckoned with.
The reply began with some élan but Craig Kieswetter, failing for the fourth time in the series, was bowled through a wide gate by Harris. He needs runs, but so too does Kevin Pietersen, who again began with a flourish before he was leg before moving across his crease. Pietersen was aghast at the decision but it was perfectly valid. It is 14 innings and 19 months since Pietersen made a one-day international fifty. Man of the tournament in their recent World Twenty20 triumph, he will soon start to become perplexed again at his lack of runs. Does he stick or twist? When Strauss became the third wicket to fall, edging Tait behind as the ball moved away from round the wicket, it depended on Eoin Morgan. Off the mark with a six, he looked ready for the challenge for long enough and was typically unflustered when he lost Paul Collingwood.
Morgan clubbed a couple more sixes off an over from James Hopes, dominated a fifth-wicket stand of 50 with Yardy and was ready to move up the gears swiftly when he flashed at an inviting wide one from Harris. That, in essence, was that and, though Yardy was pleasantly well-ordered, the chase was academic.
The Brit Oval: Australia beat England by 78 runs; England won toss
S R Watson c Morgan b Swann 41/1/5/54
†T D Paine c Morgan b Bresnan/8/0/1/22
*R T Ponting c Strauss b Anderson 92/0/10/93
M J Clarke not out 99/0/7/106
C L White c Anderson b Broad/17/0/1/16
M E K Hussey run out 1/0/0/1
S P D Smith not out 18/0/4/8
Extras (b 3, lb 2, w 9) 14
Total (5 wkts, 50 overs) 290
Fall: 1-33, 2-73, 3-228, 4-263, 5-266.
Did not bat J R Hopes, R J Harris, D E Bollinger, S W Tait.
Bowling J M Anderson 10-1-66-1, T T Bresnan 9-1-52-1, S C J Broad 10-0-46-1, M H Yardy 9-0-49-0, G P Swann 6-0-31-1, L J Wright 3-0-14-0, P D Collingwood 3-0-27-0.
*A J Strauss c Paine b Tait 37/0/5/45
†C Kieswetter b Harris 12/0/1/23
K P Pietersen lbw b Harris 8/0/2/6
P D Collingwood lbw b Smith 15/0/1/19
E J G Morgan c Paine b Harris 47/3/1/56
M H Yardy c White b Bollinger 57/0/5/63
L J Wright b Smith 2/0/0/9
T T Bresnan c Watson b Harris 22/0/1/26
G P Swann c Paine b Bollinger 1/0/0/2
S C J Broad c Hussey b Harris 4/0/1/5
J M Anderson not out 0/0/0/2
Extras (b 1, lb 3, w 3) 7
Total (42.4 overs) 212
Fall 1-37, 2-53, 3-61, 4-90, 5-140, 6-151, 7-199, 8-207, 9-208, 10-212.
Bowling S W Tait 7-2-23-1, D E Bollinger 8-0-38-2, R J Harris 8.4-1-32-5, J R Hopes 10-0-56-0, S P D Smith 9-0-59-2.
Umpires A S Dar (Pak) & R A Kettleborough (Eng)Reuse content