Australia performed a very un-Australian act yesterday in Melbourne - they did something that put a smile on the face of the England cricket team. In defeating New Zealand by five wickets Ricky Ponting's side ensured that England have now only to beat the Black Caps in Brisbane tomorrow to qualify for the finals of the Commonwealth Bank Series. If New Zealand had successfully defended their huge total of 290 England's inferior run-rate would have left them needing a comprehensive victory, with a bonus point, to extend their stay in Australia.
There was further good news for England when Michael Vaughan announced that he expects to play in what is now effectively a semi-final. Vaughan will put his injured hamstring through a final test today, and if he feels no discomfort he will resume his duties as captain.
"My chances of playing are very good," he said. "I've come through four or five days of hard practice and I have done a lot of running. If I get through Monday's practice session I will be available for selection on Tuesday."
Vaughan did not want to say where he would be batting but he is expected to open at the expense of Mal Loye, who has shown promise at the top of the order but is yet to post a significant score. Vaughan will open with Ed Joyce, who booked himself a World Cup place on Friday when he scored a superb hundred against Australia.
England will contemplate other changes to the side that comprehensively defeated Australia in Sydney. But should they? Should Paul Collingwood return at the expense of Ravi Bopara, and should a fit again Jon Lewis replace Sajid Mahmood? Changing a winning side is frowned upon by many, especially when it could be the only England team to beat Australia this winter.
Bopara showed promise standing in for an ill Collingwood on his England debut. The Essex all-rounder did not have lot to do but he did not look overawed by the occasion and displayed some pleasant touches with bat and ball. Lewis offers consistency but the pace and hostility of Mahmood unsettled the Aussies and could well do the same to the Kiwis.
The Brisbane pitch offers fast bowlers assistance and England may play Lewis and Mahmood, which could result in Monty Panesar missing out. Dropping Panesar would be a shame because he has bowled well against New Zealand, conceding less than four runs an over, so another option would be to omit the second spinner, Jamie Dalrymple, in order to play the strongest seam attack and the best spinner.
New Zealand will be disheartened after losing a match they ought to have won but England will need another good performance to beat Stephen Fleming's men. New Zealand have scored 335, 318 and 290 in their past three games so England's bowlers must be at their best.
Vaughan said last week that he did not see England's dreadful batting in Adelaide coming, and he admitted yesterday that he was equally surprised by the display against Australia on Friday.
"I don't think any of us saw the performance in Sydney coming," he said. "You could not get further extremes than our performance at Sydney and those in Adelaide. Friday was how we want to play. It was no-frills cricket. We stuck to the basics of batting and bowling and achieved a good victory. We played the game we wanted to play. Ed Joyce and Ian Bell gave us a good solid start at the top of the innings - it allowed the lower order to come out and express themselves. It was old-school one-day cricket but we feel it gives us the best chance of posting good totals with the squad we have.
"The win over Australia was a big, big win for us because you do get a lot of confidence from playing like that against the No 1 side in the world. But I must stress it is only one performance and we need to play like that on a regular basis. We must do it again on Tuesday. Tuesday will be a true test of how far we have come because it is a pressure game for us. There is no point producing a performance like that to get us back in the competition, only to let it all slip against New Zealand."