This has the potential to turn ugly. For the second time in three days, England lost a match to Australia they ought to have won, this one by 39 runs in another contest that had the charisma of smelly socks.
What might have been a glorious addendum to the summer around the country after the scintillating recapture of the Ashes is in danger of becoming an interminable anti-climax. From tour de force to tour of torpor.
Of course, at 2-0 down in the NatWest series with five to play, there is plenty of scope still for England to come back. In all formats of the game lately, the team have made it a habit: they did it in the one-dayers in the West Indies, in the World Twenty20 after losing to the Netherlands and most joyously of all in the Ashes after humiliating defeat in the penultimate Test.
But they have it all do now. Australia, while hardly the force of yore, have been the more competent side. Having lost the toss twice and been asked to bat, they have twice set reasonable targets when it looked as if they would and should not. Reasonable but not forbidding, that is.
And twice England have made a mess of the pursuit, failing to get in, failing to stay in, failing to grasp the pace and position of the game. They lost yesterday after being 74 without loss before the 15th over was out. A chance to come back certainly, but Australia will fancy extending their lead.
"We should have won this one, we can't let opportunities like this slip through our fingers," said captain Andrew Strauss, understating the issue. "We lost wickets at regular intervals. We were the architects of our own downfall. Fair play to Australia, but we were in a good position to win the game comfortably and let them back in.
"We keep talking about the batsmen making a score," he added. "We haven't done that in two games, we are aware of it and need to get better."
To say that England are missing Kevin Pietersen and Andrew Flintoff is to suggest that the ignition key is useful in starting the car. Not essential perhaps but it makes everything that much less fretful. Perhaps they were not helped by the further absence of Stuart Broad with a neck strain or of Adil Rashid who was dropped despite his exemplary cricket at The Oval on Friday. It was felt presumably that conditions would not suit Rashid but it somehow sent out the wrong signals: get picked, do well, get dropped.
England have some inexperienced cricketers in their side at present – and it was their most experienced, Paul Collingwood, who scored their only half century yesterday, on the way becoming only the fifth English batsman to score 4,000 ODI runs – but so do Australia. There was a collective lack of sensible application to the task by England.
Their batting order, as it did in the first match, has a brittleness to it at the top, in the middle and at the bottom. If the selectors have got the right men they will eventually come out of it and be better for it but the early signs are not promising.
Only Collingwood made a substantial contribution yesterday, but almost throughout his innings England were losing the match. It was his 26th ODI score above fifty and only the seventh time that England have lost. All he could do was hope somebody would stay around long enough so he could step on the gas, but it never happened.
There were 23 balls still available when Collingwood was the last man out which suggests that had they placed a higher bounty on their wickets the target of 250 was comfortably attainable. The first wicket partnership of 74 in 14.5 overs between Strauss and Ravi Bopara should in itself have been sufficient to secure the match and that it was not exemplified carelessness as much as any other attribute.
The only other partnership of note was between Collingwood and Graeme Swann who put on 36 from 42 balls when victory was galloping quickly over the horizon. The damage had already been inflicted. Bopara had been the first one to go, stepping blithely across his stumps, Matt Prior played a sloppy drive and was caught behind, Strauss got a leading edge trying to turn against Nathan Hauritz's spin.
The captain fell only two balls after a Lancaster bomber had flown across the ground. It stirred hearts as these sights do among Englishmen and Swann, on the dressing-room balcony, could be seen giving it a one-man round of applause. Strauss's ungainly shot was not an appropriate response.
Owais Shah drilled a couple of meaningful strokes but was then involved in his 13th run out in 57 one-day innings, himself being the victim for the sixth time. Sometimes players acquire ill-founded reputations for being poor judges of a run which become self-fullfilling prophesies. Shah again helped that theory along nicely as he failed to respond to Collingwood's call. Eoin Morgan had been included to enhance the batting but No 6 is a tricky position at the best of times and he had been in dreadful form for Middlesex since returning from the World Twenty20. The shot to which he was out matched the form.
England did not succumb to an outstanding individual exhibition. Four Australian bowlers each took two wickets. They did their jobs. It could be seen on reflection that they had undoubtedly been aided by the late hitting of Mitchell Johnson. Until then, England had controlled matters.
After bowling indifferently at the start under early cloud – Jimmy Anderson is especially lacking spark – they had Australia at 169 for 6 after 40 overs. When Callum Ferguson was out for another well-constructed half century the end might have come quickly. But Johnson played with flair and innovation, adding 43 in 23 balls as 80 runs came in the last 10 overs. It was to make a telling difference.
Running scared Shah's run-out record
Owais Shah has earned himself a reputation for being involved in run-outs. Here are some of the lowlights:
*India, The Oval, 5 September 2007 Ran out Kevin Pietersen. Asked afterwards if he regretted not sacrificing himself, he said: "I wouldn't sacrifice myself for anyone. If I was to sacrifice myself then I might as well not play."
*New Zealand, Wellington, 9 February 2008 Involved in three run-outs, including his own. Paul Collingwood was the first man run out when Shah was caught ball-watching.
*West Indies, Antigua, 15 February 2009 Ran himself out in the third Test while attempting a needless run back to bowler Jerome Taylor.
*Australia, Lord's, 6 September 2009 Shah was involved in his 13th run-out in 57 one-day innings as he failed to respond to Collingwood's call and was run out by a throw from Michael Clarke to Tim Paine.
The Oval: Scoreboard
Australia beat England by 39 runs
England won toss AUSTRALIA
S Watson c Wright b Bresnan......... 34
49 balls 4 fours
†T Paine c Morgan b Wright......... 26
44 balls 2 fours
C White c Prior b Bopara......... 42
66 balls 5 fours
*M Clarke c Prior b Wright......... 4
C Ferguson b Anderson......... 55
58 balls 5 fours
M Hussey b Swann......... 8
J Hopes lbw b Swann......... 11
19 balls 1 fours
M Johnson not out......... 43
23 balls 5 fours
B Lee c Shah b Sidebottom......... 0
N Hauritz not out......... 10
Extras (b 4, lb 4, w 8)......... 16
Total (8 wkts, 50 overs)......... 249
Fall: 1-62 (Watson), 2-64 (Paine), 3-73 (Clarke), 4-142 (White), 5-155 (Hussey), 6-179 (Hopes), 7-201 (Ferguson), 8-208 (Lee).
Bowling: J Anderson 9-0-57-1 (w3) (4-0-23-0, 2-0-14-0, 3-0-20-1), R Sidebottom 9-0-45-1 (w1) (6-0-18-0, 3-0-27-1), T Bresnan 7-0-25-1 (w1) (one spell), L Wright 10-0-52-2 (w1) (7-0-27-2, 3-0-25-0), P Collingwood 4-0-19-0 (one spell), G Swann 8-0-31-2 (3-0-14-0, 5-0-17-2), R Bopara 3-0-12-1 (one spell).
Progress: 50 11.5 Overs. 100 25 Overs. 150 34.5 Overs. 200 44.2 Overs. Feguson 50: 54 balls, 5 fours.
*A Strauss c & b Hauritz......... 47
53 balls 6 fours
R Bopara lbw b Watson......... 27
44 balls 3 fours
†M Prior c Paine b Watson......... 1
O Shah run out (Clarke)......... 12
12 balls 2 fours
P Collingwood b Lee......... 56
84 balls 3 fours
E Morgan lbw b Johnson......... 14
19 balls 2 fours
L Wright c Paine b Lee......... 20
19 balls 3 fours
T Bresnan c Paine b Johnson......... 5
G Swann b Bracken......... 14
R Sidebottom b Bracken......... 0
J Anderson not out......... 0
Extras (b 5, lb 2, w 6, nb 1)......... 14
Total (46.1 overs)......... 210
Fall: 1-74 (Bopara), 2-76 (Prior), 3-85 (Strauss), 4-97 (Shah), 5-129 (Morgan), 6-157 (Wright), 7-168 (Bresnan), 8-204 (Swann), 9-204 (Sidebottom), 10-210 (Collingwood).
Bowling: B Lee 8.1-0-22-2 (w2) (4-0-12-0, 3-0-7-1, 1.1-0-3-1), N Bracken 10-0-37-2 (w1) (2-0-10-0, 4-0-15-0, 2-0-5-0, 2-0-7-2), M Johnson 9-1-50-2 (w1) (3-0-18-0, 3-0-17-1, 3-1-14-1), J Hopes 3-0-22-0 (w1) (one spell), N Hauritz 9-0-46-1 (w1) (6-0-30-1, 2-0-9-0), S Watson 7-1-26-2 (5-1-20-2, 1-0-3-0).
Progress: 50 10.4 Overs. 100 20.5 Overs. 150 31.1 Overs. 200 42.5 Overs. Collingwood 50: 74 balls, 3 fours.
Umpires: I J Gould & A L Hill.
TV replay umpire: N J Llong.
Match referee: R A Kettleborough.
Previous match: The Oval, 4 September: Australia beat England by four runs.
Forthcoming matches: Wednesday, 9 September: The Rose Bowl, 2:30pm; Saturday, 12 September: Lord's, 10:15am; Tuesday, 15 September 2009: Trent Bridge, 2:30pm; Thursday, 17 September: Trent Bridge, 2:30pm; Sunday, 20 September 2009: Riverside, 10:15am.
Australia lead the series 2-0.
Balls faced by Mitchell Johnson in making 43 not out