Ian Bell and bowlers prove England's superiority over Australia
Australia 200-9 England 201-2
Of course, none of what is happening between England and Australia at present is remotely connected to the Ashes next year. But you should try telling that to the marines.
The NatWest Series that is being dominated by the home side, and which they lead 3-0 with one to play at Old Trafford tomorrow, is an event in isolation in a quite different format of the game. But so overwhelming has been England's superiority, on such a different level are their skills with both bat and ball, that it is impossible not to make them outstanding favourites to retain the urn.
At home, in any format, England are beginning to look impregnable. They have won the last seven series in both one-day internationals and Tests. The eight-wicket victory at Durham on Saturday was also their ninth consecutive one-day win home or away, a record sequence for any England side. It has a galvanising effect which is difficult for opponents to repulse, as England found to their constant humiliation when Australia were cocks of the walk for 15 years or so.
There is time for Australia to make significant advances. A year is a long time in the life of young, tearaway fast bowlers, of whom they have plenty. The new batsmen found so wanting on unpleasant pitches in the past week or so may adjust to the demands of international cricket in time.
But maybe not, in either case. For now, England are simply the better team, a plain fact that was true of Australia for so long. In winning the fourth match, England were more adept in all departments of the game. Their bowling was flawless, their batting beautifully paced and the imperfection of their fielding was salvaged by the fact that another opportunity was always likely to present itself. Australia showed their traditional doggedness, not least when the experienced hand David Hussey effected a recovery from 96 for 6 with a calm and determined 70, the top score of the match. But it was always an exercise in damage limitation rather than in establishing control.
England's bowlers remain a thing of beauty. They were granted conditions ideal for their purpose after Alastair Cook won the toss and they took to them like scavenging dogs, all over the Australian batsmen from the start. Their accuracy was relentless and their length masterful.
To survive required technique, application and luck. Australia were short in all departments. Steve Finn and Jimmy Anderson were England's outstanding bowlers but if Finn seems to be making an unanswerable case for selection in the Test series against South Africa, now only 10 days away, Tim Bresnan's merits are too easily overlooked. He has a habit of taking wickets at important points.
In terms of Test selection, Ravi Bopara's gently probing seam may be persuasive. If he is to usurp Jonny Bairstow's position in the side it will be because of his batting, which now has an authoritative edge that has not always been present, but his bowling will enter the equation.
England knocked off the 201 they needed to win – the fact that Australia reached 200 did not give them a psychological advantage – in comfort. There was no rush and they knew it.
Ian Bell was resplendent and when he and Cook put on 70 for the first wicket the game was all but up. Jonathan Trott saw England home after Bell mucked up the chance of reaching a second hundred of the series. Kevin Pietersen's retirement from limited-overs cricket has been taken without a backward glance.
Cook said: "We are getting off to good starts, which makes it easier for our lower order. We have had to move on from Kev. Clearly, he is a world-class player who is missed, but we have all moved on as a side. People have had to step up to different roles; they have to shoulder that responsibility, and the lads have done that well."
Bell is not receiving quite the approbation he deserves. It is the price he pays for caressing the ball in the day of biff-bang.
Michael Clarke, Australia's captain, did not try to conceal the gap between the sides. It is not his style.
"I do believe England got the better of conditions, but it's easy to make excuses," he said. "I think we had the better of conditions at Lord's as well, and England still found a way to beat us. That's what you have to do, against good opposition – in all different conditions around the world, you've got to find a way to have success. Unfortunately, once again today, we were outplayed."
On the evidence so far, it is difficult not to see a repeat in Manchester tomorrow.
EMIRATES DURHAM ICG (One day)
England beat Australia by eight wickets
England won toss
Runs 6s 4s Bls Min
S R Watson b Bresnan 28 1 2 54 81
D A Warner lbw b Finn 2 0 0 19 18
P J Forrest lbw b Finn 0 0 0 1 0
*M J Clarke b Finn 43 0 4 85 118
G J Bailey b Bopara 9 0 1 10 10
D J Hussey c Anderson b Bresnan 70 0 9 73 117
†M S Wade c Kieswetter b Finn 0 0 0 1 0
B Lee c Broad b Anderson 27 1 2 41 50
C J McKay c Bresnan b Anderson 6 0 1 11 7
J L Pattinson not out 8 0 0 6 9
B W Hilfenhaus not out 0 0 0 0 0
Extras (lb2 w4 nb1) 7
Total(for 9, 50 overs) 200
Fall: 1-6, 2-6, 3-57, 4-68, 5-96, 6-96, 7-166, 8-174, 9-194.
Bowling: J M Anderson 10-3-34-2, S T Finn 10-2-37-4, T T Bresnan 9-0-46-2, S C J Broad 9-1-34-0, R S Bopara 9-0-29-1, S R Patel 3-0-18-0.
Runs 6s 4s Bls Min
*A N Cook c Sub b McKay 29 0 5 46 75
I R Bell b McKay 69 0 9 94 133
I J L Trott not out 64 0 4 102 114
R S Bopara not out 33 0 3 47 56
Extras (w4 nb2) 6
Total(for 2, 47.5 overs) 201
Fall: 1-70, 2-136.
Did not bat: E J G Morgan, †C Kieswetter, S R Patel, T T Bresnan, S C J Broad, S T Finn, J M Anderson.
Bowling: B Lee 2.2-1-12-0, B W Hilfenhaus 9.4-0-36-0, C J McKay 10-1-29-2, J L Pattinson 10-1-46-0, S R Watson 1-0-5-0, M J Clarke 5-0-17-0, D J Hussey 8.5-0-48-0, D A Warner 1-0-8-0.
Umpires: M Erasmus (SA) and N J Llong.
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