A magnificent onslaught from Kevin Pietersen changed the match after Glenn McGrath had brought it to life with two wickets in two balls. Pietersen's attack on Brett Lee after lunch brought 37 runs in three mostly short-pitched overs as Australia's gamble in unleashing its fastest bowler backfired.
Hooking and straight driving with courage and panache, the African-raised youngster blasted his adopted country towards its triumph. Spared on three occasions, the newcomer played a stirring innings, twice clouting Shane Warne for six over midwicket, thereby revealing the strength of his eye and intent. Nor did he lose his head. Although he clobbered the lesser bowlers, he kept the closest of watches upon McGrath and Warne.
It was a fine time to produce the best attacking innings of the series. That Ricky Ponting played the best defensive innings of the summer at Old Trafford tells the tale of the balance of power between the sides. Ever since the first day of the second Test in Birmingham, Australia have been playing from behind. England's furious attack on that first day at Edgbaston took their opponents by surprise. It was a masterpiece of courageous cricket.
Australia never quite recovered. By the end of the series both their pace bowling and their opening batting were in trouble, even though Matthew Hayden and Justin Langer both managed centuries here at the Oval.
Among the tourists, only Shane Warne lived up to expectations, though Langer also gave stout service. No one could doubt that England (or, more correctly, Britain) deserved to win the series.
Australians may argue that bad light stood between them and a squared series. England can point out that rain prevented them taking a 3-1 lead in Manchester. Nor did England win by stealth. Instead, they looked the Australians in the eye and exchanged blows until the weaker side fell.
England also found a hero, a powerful, formidable and proud warrior who stood resolute on the battleground, rousing colleagues, intimidating foes and inspiring supporters. Andrew Flintoff started the series with a whimper and ended with the loudest of bangs. Simply, he is a great cricketer, the best fast bowler in the world, a fine representative of his country and a staunch team-mate.
Australia had its own champion, and how impressively he played. Throughout, Warne bowled valiantly and with supreme skill, but without much support or help from a captain who allowed him to bowl long spells.
That Warne dropped the crucial catch yesterday was cruel luck. Happily, the crowd acknowledged his contribution with several sustained ovations. Rising to the occasion and ignoring his exhaustion, Warne also ran 70 yards to congratulate Pietersen when England's saviour finally departed.
Both captains deserve credit for the sporting atmosphere that prevailed. Michael Vaughan led his side superbly. Naturally, the Australians were disappointed, but they were beaten fair and square. England were the better side. Ponting now has the chance to show he can shape his own side. Perhaps, though, the last word belongs to a cheerful crowd's lone trumpeter, a splendid gentleman who reminded all and sundry that it is only a game by routinely greeting Langer with his rendition of " hi-ho, hi-ho, it's off to work we go".
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