The beauty of the 50-over game
It's easy to forget what drama 50-over cricket can offer the cricket fan. England don't play the format at domestic level anymore and Australia are moving towards a split-innings one-day trial. But the two countries put on a cracking contest in the traditional one-day arrangement at OId Trafford, where a packed crowd stayed until the end, ignoring the chance to head to the pub and watch what turned out to be England's last World Cup match for the campaign.
What they saw was an ebbing and flowing that Twenty20 cricket doesn't quite offer, and a tense result that brought the fans to their feet as England sneaked home to win the series with two matches to play. There were lightning quick yorkers from Shaun Tait, high-class spin bowling from Graeme Swann, a captain's innings from Andrew Strauss and a tight finish as the crowd rode every ball, groaning or roaring, and counting down the chase with the players.
"We all knew the game was taking place today," Ricky Ponting said of England's football defeat. "I felt that maybe even up to a third of the crowd might have left the venue today to go and watch that. It was a great game of one-day cricket, a great spectacle for the 50-over game today. You don't see many of those sort of finishes in Twenty20 cricket. That's the beauty of our 50-over game - you can have a contest that can go down to the wire like that."
The result didn't go Ponting's way, despite an England collapse Strauss described as "horrendous" as they lost 6 for 15 and nearly gave up their grip on the chase of 213. Tim Bresnan was left needing three from the final over against James Hopes, and a thick edge for four delivered England their eighth straight one-day international victory.
Again, their success was set up by a professional bowling effort. Swann deceived Australia's batsmen and finished with four wickets, while James Anderson continued to deliver his yorkers with devastating consistency. Despite the late scare, Strauss was thrilled with the way his men had kept on top of Australia throughout over the past week.
"There are not too many sides that go 3-0 up against Australia," Strauss said. "I think we should take a huge amount of confidence over those three games, our bowling unit has been outstanding in all three and left us with modest totals to chase in all three matches. We have a nice little formula that is working well for us at the moment and that is the reason we are 3-0 up in the series."
It's an unfamiliar position for Australia, who despite having lost the CB Series to Andrew Flintoff's group four years ago have generally dominated England in one-day cricket in the past decade. Their undermanned attack kept them in the game but that cannot mask some serious concerns in the batting department on a day when they posted their lowest total of the series.
Things had started promisingly when Shane Watson and Tim Paine took the score to 75 for 0 in the 14th over but Swann, Anderson and their colleagues fought back admirably. Ponting scratched to 3 from 16 balls before he was stumped off a wide and Michael Hussey was defeated by a simple, accurate cutter from Paul Collingwood, but Ponting said the continued struggles of the batting line-up could not be attributed to being rusty.
"I'd accept that after the first game," he said. "We've played five games on tour now, so you'd like to think that we'd be making runs on a more consistent basis than we are. You've got to give England credit for the way they bowled. They've been pretty well structured and well planned and more importantly have executed well. That's the bottom line."
The challenge for Australia is to avoid an embarrassing 0-5 whitewash over the next week. While Strauss is sceptical about the prospect of taking momentum from this series into the Ashes, he is confident that a clean sweep would be handy ahead of next year's World Cup.
"I don't think we can read much into the Ashes," he said. "It is such a radically different format of the game but for the World Cup it would instill us with a huge amount of confidence. We are aiming for it now and we don't want to take our foot off the gas."
As long as the next two games bring similar drama, the fans will be happy. And 50-over cricket will be all the better for it.
Brydon Coverdale is a staff writer at Cricinfo