Twenty balls of bedlam
For eight long years, English cricket has been clinging to the memory of one glorious morning - at Edgbaston in 1997. It was the first Test of the summer, England were buoyant after a clean sweep in the one-day warm-ups, and an expectant nation watched in awe as the all-conquering Australians were reduced to 54 for 8 in just 19 explosive overs.
Nineteen overs? Try 20 balls. That is the benchmark now, after the most exhilarating evening of psychological point-scoring. Not in their wildest fantasies could England have envisaged the sort of debacle that unfolded in Australia's innings. Seven wickets for eight runs in 3.2 overs. It's too extraordinary for words.
The Twenty20 format encourages crash-bang-wallop cricket, but nobody imagined that that would be the sound of the most formidable batting line-up in the world collapsing in an undignified heap. England were fit, focused and firing; catches went to hand, the batting went to plan, and the bowling - led now, as in 1997, by the indefatigable Darren Gough - was a revelation.
Gough's presence in this team of young thrusters was a salutary reminder of the dark old days of English cricket, the days when, more often than not, he was the solitary shining light. From his buccaneering batting on the Ashes tour in 1994-95, via Edgbaston `97, and onto his hat-trick 18 months later, his attitude has never been less than up and at `em - even when he could barely walk in 2002-03, ahead of his career-saving knee surgery. Today, Gough epitomised the hunger that is driving England this summer, and could yet drive them to surpass all expectations come the sharp edge of the campaign.
Forget all the pretence that this performance will count for nothing when the real event gets underway on July 21. England were victorious in their last Test against Australia in 2002-03; they won magnificently over 50 overs in last summer's Champions' Trophy, and now they taken a howitzer to the popgun variety of the game as well. If the secret in Test cricket is to win every session, then Australia have just put in a 34.3-over performance that would have shamed Bangladesh. This sort of crash-landing was not in their travel plans.
Admittedly, their prior experience of Twenty20 cricket would not have prepared them for the ambush that England had in store. Back in February, they treated the format as one long in-joke, as the New Zealanders paid homage to their glory years of the early 1980s with beige outfits and silly hair, and Glenn McGrath aped Trevor Chappell's infamous delivery by pretending to bowl underarm. There were no such fripperies on display today, as Gough all but burst a blood vessel in bouncing Andrew Symonds on his hat-trick ball, before Andrew Flintoff indulged in a spell of pre-emptive thuggery to beat Brett Lee back into his cage.
Everything that could go right for England did go right. Jon Lewis got wickets on his international debut; Kevin Pietersen displayed once again his unabashed love of the limelight, and Steve Harmison was allowed three utterly stress-free overs in which to find his range against Australia - and find it he did, by uprooting McGrath's middle stump to bring an end to the festivities.
There will be sterner tests for sure, but Australia have been warned of the depth of England's resolve in this series. This evening, 18 months of stunning success were condensed into 20 balls of bedlam.
Andrew Miller is UK editor of Cricinfo