How different it was here yesterday. High summer and jubilation had turned to early autumn and drabness. The transformation was plain in the cricket, in the players, in the crowd, in the occasion.
It is not, of course, possible to win the Ashes every day – two days in the last 20 years has had to suffice for England – but only in the final stages did the first of the seven matches which compose the NatWest Series approach one-day life as it should be known. England who had until then contrived to muck up their pursuit fell short by four runs after scoring 88 runs in the last 10 overs.
Although it was excruciatingly narrow in the end, England had run out of realistic hope after the first third of their innings. They dragged themselves back into it only to lose a wicket or let the run rate become tantalisingly high.
Towards the end Luke Wright injected the home side's innings with joy and false hope, and he is a joyful cricketer. When he was in partnership with Adil Rashid (below) it was possible not only to think that England could snatch an outrageous victory but to see the future. But by then it required a sustained onslaught of the type sometimes seen on flat pitches in sun-kissed conditions. Too many wickets had been lost, too many runs were wanted, it was not to be.
By then, the decision to bowl first taken by Andrew Strauss after winning the toss looked distinctly odd. It allowed Australia not only to put their runs on the board but to assess the circumstances, while England were left to bat under lights at a time of year when twilight mingled with cloud cover.
Australia paced their innings impeccably, recognising the virtue of having wickets in hand to make the best use both of the batting power-play and the final charge in the later stages. Do not under estimate the subtle nuances of the shorter forms of the game.
They scored 82 runs in the last 10 overs, 50 from the last five, 44 in the power-play which fell therein. Callum Ferguson, a slender batsman from South Australia, scored 71 from 75 balls without ever seeming in a hurry to ensure they established a total above the workmanlike.
There is time for England to come back. In a seven-match series there is time to do most things except go on holiday as most of the Strauss's men would presumably like to do having successfully completed the most important task of the summer, the annexation of the Ashes.
There were genuinely good things for England to come out of the match, the most significant of which was Rashid. This was effectively his one-day international debut although the record books will show that officially that was against Ireland last week.
His 10 overs were mature and controlled, belying his 21 years. He turned and drifted the ball and a top-class player of spin bowling such as Michael Clarke was never commanding against him. His batting when it all seemed up for England was also admirable because it combined calmness with aggression. It cannot be long before Rashid is ready to make his Test debut and the selectors will be sorely tempted to take him to South Africa this winter as the second spinner.
It was another atypical pitch at The Oval – as that for the Test match had been – which is to say it was not a belter. England picked both their spinners which may be the way of things to come. Graeme Swann, like Rashid, gave little away and it was not a surface on which the faster men could thrive. All England's three went at five runs an over and Ryan Sidebottom at seven. Nor was it much different for Australia. Brett Lee bowled like the wind occasionally but his nine overs cost 65 runs.
Australia lost only five wickets, two of them to run outs which was illustration of the fact that if it was a pitch batsmen might have found difficult to flourish on it was also difficult to get out on. Of all the batsmen only Ferguson prospered. He made his international debut in February and has now made four half centuries in his 15 matches. He is pleasing on the eye, plays crisply and produced a wonderfully neat reverse sweep towards the end of his innings.
England's main shortcoming in their chase was an old one, a lack of partnerships. Ravi Bopara and Matt Prior put on 61 for the second wicket and were establishing a solid platform when Prior was caught off a reverse sweep at short third man. He was annoyed and he had a right to be.
Bopara failed to reach 50 for the 11th successive ODI innings in which period he has now been out in the forties five times. It begins to look like carelessness and again yesterday he has played with some aplomb before he was stumped, beaten by a regulation ball from Nathan Hauritz which drifted past his outside edge.
These two dismissals made it tough for England. Owais Shah and Collingwood rectified matters a little but then threw away their wickets. Shah, who had drilled the ball at the start of his innings, might have been adjudged unfortunate as he trod on his stumps while turning a ball to leg but Collingwood pulled a short ball to mid-wicket. It became beyond tough then.
The Oval Scoreboard
Australia win by four runs
England won toss
S Watson c & b Collingwood: 46
50 balls 6 fours
T Paine run out (Collingwood): 0
C White run out (Swann): 53
71 balls 7 fours
M Clarke c Shah b Collingwood: 45
72 balls 3 fours
C Ferguson not out: 71
75 balls 5 fours
M Hussey b Sidebottom: 20
15 balls 3 fours
J Hopes not out: 18
11 balls 1 four
Extras (b 1, lb 2, w 4): 7
Total (5 wkts, 50 overs): 260
Fall: 1-11 (Paine), 2-93 (Watson), 3-110 (White), 4-190 (Clarke), 5-237 (Hussey).
Did not bat: B Lee, M G Johnson, N M Hauritz, N W Bracken.
Bowling: J Anderson 7-0-35-0 (w1), S Broad 9-1-52-0, R Sidebottom 7-0-48-1 (w3), L Wright 1-0-9-0, A Rashid 10-0-37-0, P Collingwood 9-0-47-2, G Swann 7-0-29-0).
A Strauss c White b Lee: 12
14 balls 2 fours
R Bopara st Paine b Hauritz: 49
88 balls 3 fours
M Prior c Johnson b Hauritz: 28
47 balls 2 fours
O Shah hit wicket b Johnson: 40
48 balls 4 fours
P Collingwood c Watson b Johnson: 23
39 balls 1 four
L Wright run out (Paine): 38
27 balls 4 fours 1 six
S Broad c Clarke b Johnson: 2
A Rashid not out: 31
23 balls 4 fours
G Swann c Paine b Watson: 4
R Sidebottom not out: 13
7 balls 2 fours
Extras (b 4, w 9, nb 3): 16
Total (8 wkts, 50 overs): 256
Fall: 1-22 (Strauss), 2-83 (Prior), 3-124 (Bopara), 4-161 (Shah), 5-168 (Collingwood), 6-178 (Broad), 7-224 (Wright), 8-229 (Swann).
Bowling: B Lee 9-0-65-1 (w2nb3), N Bracken 10-0-48-0, M Johnson 7-0-24-3 (w2), J Hopes 5-1-14-0, N Hauritz 9-0-44-2 (w4), M Clarke 4-0-19-0), S Watson 6-0-40-1 (w1).
Umpires: A L Hill and N J Llong.Reuse content