Ponting century seals win for Australia
Australia 224 for 3 (Ponting 111) beat England 223 for 8 (Flintoff 87, Lee 5-41) by seven wickets
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details
On Thursday, England wrapped up a nine-wicket win at Headingley; on Sunday Australia replied with an seven-wicket win at Lord's. Such are the swings and roundabouts of the NatWest Challenge. But, with the Ashes getting underway in just 11 days' time, the identity of Australia's enforcers were more significant than the victory itself.
Brett Lee's fast and furious figures of 5 for 41, the best by an Australian in a one-day match at Lord's, ensured that Australia were set an eminently attainable 224 for victory. But it was Ricky Ponting's 18th one-day century - only his second half-century of a lean tour of England - that ensured they won at a canter with more than five overs to spare.
It was a shoddy performance in the field from England. Darren Gough, who bowled Adam Gilchrist in his first over only for the umpire to call no-ball, was dispatched for 43 runs in 6.2 wild and woolly overs, and given that Australia had reduced England to 28 for 3 at the ten-over mark of their innings, by the time Gilchrist had blasted 29 from 20 balls, victory was more or less pre-ordained.
The key protagonist of the day, however, was Ponting. Today he made another edgy start, characterised by his habit of over-balancing at the crease, but none of England's bowlers able to trouble him for six balls in succession. He raced into double-figures with a clipped four off a leg-stump half-volley, and by the time he produced an astonishing pick-up for six off an Andrew Flintoff length ball, it was clear that he was playing himself back into the groove.
Lee on the other hand, had a starker incentive - to play himself back into the team. Lee has been a notable absentee from Australia's recent Test line-ups, but after the form he has produced on the one-day leg of this trip, his return to whites must be a given.
On a gloriously hot and sunny day, Ponting won the toss for Australia and chose to bowl first, thereby ensuring that his Supersub, Brad Haddin, could have been invaluable as an extra batsman, while England's - Vikram Solanki - was rendered virtually obsolete. Lee was used in attacking bursts by his captain, and though he missed out in his initial four overs, his prodigious and pacy swing was instrumental in unsettling England's openers. But thereafter he struck almost on cue, to pick up his fourth five-wicket haul in ODIs.
It was Michael Kasprowicz who made the initial incision for Australia, removing Andrew Strauss with the first ball of his spell to precipitate a collapse of three wickets in 18 balls. Lee then returned for an early second burst to nip out the vital scalp of Kevin Pietersen, before, at a wobbly 45 for 4, Flintoff and Paul Collingwood engineered a common-sense stand of 103 to salvage the innings.
It was an impressive innings from Flintoff, and an important one as well, for his previous best against the Aussies had been a mere 45. He was controlled at the start (with the odd inevitable burst of power, such as a massive six into the midwicket hospitality boxes off the lacklustre Jason Gillespie) and he moved impressively through the gears as the overs ticked away, cracking 10 fours and two sixes in all, the second of which came from an Andrew Symonds full-toss.
Once again, however, it was Lee who changed the course of the innings, Collingwood flashed at the second ball of his new spell. Simon Jones was caught by Simon Katich as he swung a short ball into the deep, and once Flintoff was gone, top-edging a wild drive for 87, Ponting produced a stunning one-handed catch in the covers to remove Ashley Giles and give Lee his fifth of the innings.
With a serviceable 223 for 8 to defend, England's fortunes nosedived from the moment that Gough overstepped to reprieve Gilchrist. Katich, given his opportunity by Matthew Hayden's sore shoulder, eased to a calm 30 from 62 balls before suffering a rush of blood and holing out to cow corner, but Damien Martyn took over with instant sange froid, as Australia strolled ever closer to victory.
By the end, Ponting was striking the ball with all his customary vim and certainty, and England were resigned to regrouping at The Oval on Tuesday for one final crack at this one-day lark. A tie in the NatWest final and one-all with one to play. These teams could hardly be better matched ahead of the first Test at Lord's, although you might not have known it today.
Andrew Miller is UK editor of Cricinfo