With a flourish which confirmed that recognisable progress may yet become stunning achievement, England won the 3,000th one-day international last night. It was a small but significant landmark – all victories against Australia anywhere at any time should never be treated lightly – suggesting that they might also manage to win the 4,000th, which at the rate these things are played may well be the World Cup final next April.
The man who led them to a four-wicket victory in the opening match of the NatWest Series was the resident genial Irishman, Eoin Morgan, whose 103 not out was the usual breathtaking blend of the beautifully measured and the spectacularly inventive.
His whirring blade ensured that England won with four overs at their disposal. Since they were chasing a target of 268 under lights, that was almost as emphatic as their victory against the same age-old opponents in the World Twenty20 final.
It was that glorious triumph last month that has served finally to convince the team and persuade more sceptical followers that there really is something going on here. Last night's win, the more deserving for coming after they fell to 97 for 4, came against a backdrop of regular defeat to Australia in the 50-over game. England lost a home series last summer 6-1 and were then crushed in the Champions Trophy semi-final.
The advent of Morgan has utterly changed the complexion of their middle order. This was his third one-day hundred and his second for England in his last four innings. He is not exactly a stranger to English audiences, having made his debut last summer. But this was the first time on these shores that he had exhibited his splendid array of gifts. As usual, he took his time to settle, surveying the field, and the bowling, smelling the roses awhile.
But when he lets rip there is, as several teams in South Africa, Bangladesh and the West Indies discovered during the winter, no stopping him.
England had lost their way by the time Morgan arrived but his calmness and patience are virtues to be admired as much as his later pyrotechnics.
His innings took only 85 balls, reaching three figures and victory with his 16th four. The pick was perhaps the one he made with a lightning switch hit, but the timing of some of his caressed cover drives was equally effortless.
That England won with so much to spare, when it looked as though they might be up against it, said something about their new self-belief, the state of the pitch and Australia's bowling resources. None of Australia's seam attack had bowled in an international in England before, and by the end it showed.
The tourists had demonstrated their confidence early by awarding a cap to Josh Hazlewood, who had been called into the squad as a late replacement only four days before it left. Hazlewood thus became Australia's youngest one-day international player at 19 years and 165 days old, assuming a title held somewhat surprisingly for 26 years by the left-arm spinner Ray Bright, who was 95 days older.
Although he bowled Craig Kieswetter for his first senior international wicket with one which nipped back and kept low, it is clear that Hazlewood is a work in progress.
Australia recorded a worthy total after they were 98 for 4, their top order undermined largely by the improbable figure of Luke Wright, who snaffled the prize wicket of the opposition captain, Ricky Ponting. But there is a certainty about Australia's middle order that if Ponting doesn't get you, then Michael Hussey does, and if he doesn't then Michael Clarke will.
It was Clarke's turn yesterday. Unfussily, he orchestrated the recovery, sharing important partnerships with Hussey, James Hopes and Nathan Hauritz. None of his strokes was so glorious that it made a single rafter twitch on either of the Rose Bowl's two new stands. But it was as neat as could be.
England bowled well enough, with Mike Yardy in his first match for three years showing why he has been recalled, tying up the batsmen, giving them nothing to hit. Wright took two wickets and later helped Morgan in a crucial fifth-wicket stand of 95 from 92 balls. There is more to him than the broadsword. But it was Morgan's incisive scalpel that won the night.
Rose bowl scoreboard
The Rose Bowl: England beat Australia by four wickets
Australia won toss
Runs 6s 4s Bls
S R Watson c & b Broad 32 0 6 26
†T D Paine b Wright 26 0 3 43
* R T Ponting c Broad b Wright 21 0 3 23
M J Clarke not out 87 0 7 97
C L White b Anderson 10 0 119
M E K Hussey c Kieswetter b Yardy 28 0 0 38
J R Hopes c Bresnan b Anderson 34 0 3 38
N M Hauritz c Strauss b Broad 22 0 3 17
R J Harris not out 0 0 0 0
Extras (lb 2, w 4, nb 1)7
Total (7 wkts, 50 overs) 267
Fall: 1-52, 2-66, 3-86, 4-98, 5-168, 6-225, 7-266.
Did not bat: J R Hazlewood, D E Bollinger.
Bowling: J M Anderson 9-1-43-2, T T Bresnan 8-1-49-0, S C J Broad 8-0-54-2, L J Wright 7-1-34-2, M H Yardy 10-2-41-1, G P Swann 8-0-44-0.
Runs 6s 4s Bls
* A J Strauss c Paine b Harris 10 0 2 11
†C Kieswetter b Hazlewood 38 1 6 44
K P Pietersen c Ponting b Watson 29 0 4 36
P D Collingwood c Hopes b Watson 11 0 1 23
E J G Morgan not out 103 0 16 85
L J Wright lbw b Harris 36 1 1 48
T T Bresnan b Harris 27 0 3 29
M H Yardy not out 1 0 0 1
Extras (lb 8, w 4, nb 1) 13
Total (6 wkts, 46 overs) 268
Fall: 1-16, 2-75, 3-81, 4-97, 5-192, 6-263.
Did not bat: G P Swann, S C J Broad, J M Anderson.
Bowling: D E Bollinger 9-0-48-0, R J Harris 9-2-42-3, J R Hazlewood 7-0-41-1, S R Watson 8-1-55-2, J R Hopes 5-0-30-0, N M Hauritz 8-0-44-0.
Umpires: A S Dar (Pak) & I J Gould.
TV umpire: R K Illingworth.Reuse content