Bell and Bopara star in simple chase
England 252 for 4 (Bopara 82, Bell 75) beat Australia 251 for 7 (Watson 66, Hussey 65, Bresnan 2-50) by six wickets
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details
It is one of the ironies of England's recent resurgence in all formats of the game that, for all their meticulous planning, two of the crucial ingredients of their success have come through luck. Just as it was only the sacking of Kevin Pietersen and Peter Moores as captain that brought Andy Flower and Andrew Strauss together as captain and coach, so it has only been the "retirement" of Pietersen from limited-overs international cricket that presented another chance to Ian Bell as an ODI batsman.
It is not just luck, of course. It is how England have adjusted to circumstance and overcome the obstacles that have arisen. But it remains true that, had Pietersen not departed the England limited-overs set-up recently, it is most unlikely that Bell would have returned to the top of the England order.
Bell has certainly embraced his opportunity. Since returning to the ODI side, he has contributed scores of 126, 53, 41 and now 75 and played a significant role in England not only taking a 2-0 lead in this five-match series, but extending their unbeaten record to eight successive victories in completed ODIs this year. It equals England's best run of ODI results and sustains their chance of leapfrogging Australia to become the No. 1 ODI side; a position they will assume if they win this series 5-0. That will also make them the first team to hold No. 1 rankings in all three forms of the game. This was the first ODI in which they had beaten Australia at the Oval since 1997.
Here Bell showed not just his class - a straight six off the bowling of Shane Watson quite majestic - but also his composure and maturity. Against an attack containing two men bowling in excess of 90 mph, he had time, confidence and the range of stokes required. He slog-swept David Hussey, cut Watson, swept Xavier Doherty and drove Mitchell Johnson with power. He looked a high-class player, quite at home on the ODI stage.
Ravi Bopara also enjoyed an excellent match. Having contributed a miserly five overs and taken the key wicket of Michael Clarke, pushing indeterminately at one outside off stump, he produced an admirably calm and increasingly assured innings of 82 to take England to the brink of a comfortable victory.
Clarke briefly created some uncertainly in the England ranks. He ended Bell's innings with his first delivery - the batsmen attempting to cut a delivery that was too full for the shot - and then saw Eoin Morgan adjudged leg before just two balls later. Hot Spot, which showed (on the third umpire's television, anyway) the faintest of touches on Morgan's inside edge, reprieved the batsman. England were never seriously troubled again and cruised to victory with six wickets and 4.2 overs in hand.
But Clarke's senior seamers let him down. Mitchell Johnson, perhaps rusty having bowled just six List A overs since sustaining a foot injury in November, came into the side due to Pat Cummins' withdrawal with a side strain, but donated three no-balls in his first two overs, with Alastair Cook and Bell taking advantage to thrash two of the resulting free-hits through mid-off for four. Brett Lee also donated five wides down the leg side in his second over. Only Clint McKay, who beat Cook with a good one that swing back in to trap the England captain leg before, and Watson, who might have had Bell caught for 70 had David Warner, at point, been able to hold on to a diving chance, threatened to stem the tide.
Nor did Australia score enough runs. Winning first use of a good batting pitch, they were indebted to half-centuries from Shane Watson and George Bailey but would reflect that they fell perhaps 25 runs short of par in such conditions.
Watson lived dangerously for much of his innings and, apart from edging the ball just past his own stumps (on 2 and 30), was dropped by Jonathan Trott, at gully, on 8. He also survived a run-out chance on 47 - had Ian Bell, at mid-on, hit with his throw Watson would have been out - and two decisions that were referred to the third umpire for review.
But if Watson was somewhat fortunate, Australia were grateful for his sense of urgency. His top-order colleagues struggled for fluency and, after David Warner had top-edged a pull to square leg, Peter Forrest, having scored only two from his first 17 deliveries, was brilliantly caught down the leg side. The departure of Clarke and the introduction of Graeme Swann and Bopara, saw Australia make only 24 in 10 overs and 53 in 18 in mid-innings as Bailey, in particular, became bogged down.
The pressure told on Watson, whose final 10 runs occupied 25 balls, and who, in attempting to loft Graeme Swann over the top, succeeded only in gifting a catch to deep mid-wicket.
Bailey - who scored only 26 from his first 61 balls - eventually found some momentum and, in partnership with the more dynamic Hussey added 78 in 13 overs before Finn, in his follow through, ran out the latter with a superb throw with just one stump to aim at.
That wicket stalled Australia's hopes of some late-innings acceleration. Bailey's lavish drive was beaten by some inswing, before Matthew Wade's attempt to scoop one over the keeper's head resulted only in a simple catch to short fine leg.
But England were far from their best with the ball or in the field. England's bowlers, missing James Anderson who was absent with a groin strain, donated eight wides, two no-balls and numerous deliveries that drifted on to the pads. Apart from dropping Watson, Bailey was also missed on 52, a tough chance offered to Tim Bresnan off Graeme Swann at deep midwicket, and could have been run out on 55 had Bopara hit from short distance. Lee was also dropped on 2 and 17, from the final ball of the innings, after Morgan, at long on, failed to cling on to tough chances.
In an odd way, however, England might find it encouraging that they could play so far below their best and still ease to victory against the No. 1 ranked ODI side.
George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo