England have demolished a lacklustre Australia. A tour that started in a tunnel of wretchedness has ended in a sudden blaze of glory. Throughout the last fortnight the visitors have been the better side. Andrew Flintoff's beleaguered outfit have played with unsuspected energy and previously unseen conviction. Australia were left to reflect upon the dangers of losing momentum. Never give a sucker an even break.
It is almost impossible to pinpoint the precise moment the turnaround began. Certainly, the teams have not undergone any radical rethink. England fielded much the same outfit who have for several months been battered and beaten, though not, as it has turned out, into submission. Australia remain resounding on paper and will go to the Caribbean as favourites to win the World Cup. It is just that cricket is not played on paper or even solely on the field. It is also played in the minds of men.
As always, the manner in which power changed hands was instructive. Success in sport hangs by a thread. No team are invulnerable, none beyond hope. Conceivably, for Australia, the senior players' yearning for a rest affected morale. Andrew Symonds' injury was also crucial, leaving a gaping hole in the batting and causing a reconstruction, with a spinner, Brad Hogg, and an all-rounder, Shane Watson, replacing two hard-hitting middle-order men. Ever since Australia have not looked as well balanced.
Among the Englishmen, the rise of two Durhamites has been the most significant development.Paul Collingwood and Liam Plunkett were the finals' outstanding figures. Collingwood was superb, collecting runs with well-crafted strokes, never trying to hit the ball too hard, always looking for a gap. Superb anywhere in the field, too, and calm with the ball, he has shown that a man untouched by brilliance may yet meet the greatest of challenges.
Plunkett was a revelation. He has been the counterpoint to Steve Harmison. Whereas the talented beanpole yearned for the quiet life, his younger county colleague displayed a relish for battle. He stands tall at the crease, keeps a line and swings the white ball late. A summer that began with a sorrowful wide ended with a fine stint from a younger man with plenty of fire in his belly. Over the last fortnight, Plunkett has been the best bowler on either side.
Not that the northerners alone deserve credit. Monty Panesar was outstanding, and Ed Joyce has performed brightly. The last moment of the tour was also the most touching. Flintoff's captaincy has been criticised. No one, though, has ever doubted his heart. Throughout he has refused to complain or blame his players. He deserved his moment of rejoicing. England have been led by sharper tacticians but none more admirable.