Australia fielding magic highlights gulf
David Warner had not even faced a ball before his innings should have been over. He knew it, too - giving up on a single he was never supposed to make, with half the pitch left. Just two balls into Australia's chase, Aaron Finch had punched the ball to Ravi Bopara at cover, who anticipated, picked up and threw, low but wide.
Warner's bonus 70 balls allowed him to take Australia to within 123 runs of victory, with just under 30 overs left. His removal so early would have changed the game.
Earlier in the day, Warner himself had nailed an outrageous direct hit to see off Ian Bell, who was caught ambling between the wickets here for the second match in a row. It was one of a triumvirate of pieces of fielding that served as another marker of the galling gap in quality between the two sides on this tour.
"The Australian way is to lead in the field," Michael Clarke said immediately after the match. And how he led, taking a remarkable one-handed grab when Ben Stokes got down on one knee and swept Xavier Doherty hard and behind square. The ball shot low to Clarke's right but he somehow managed to claim the ball within a whisker of the turf, with his weaker right hand.
Daniel Christian was responsible for the third, as he dived after a leading edge from Eoin Morgan, scooping the ball safely - as confirmed by the television umpire - while almost upside down and vertical. Morgan stood his ground to await confirmation on the catch's cleanliness but he could just as well have stayed there in amazement.
It is one of the game's great truths that a side's fielding is a measure of their confidence. While England's fielders towed the ring's outer limits, Australia were choking, at times wilfully making the 30-yard circle ten short. Where England were meek Australia were hounding and hungry.
As if to provide an exception to prove the rule, Aaron Finch dropped Bell on 14, after the ball was flat-batted straight to him, standing close in at point. Finch's nonchalance upon taking a swirling skier when Chris Jordan tried to pull James Faulkner into Moore Park did little to suggest he was satisfied with the scalp of a No. 10 as redemption. It spoke of a ruthlessness that England have been unable to match, in any discipline.
Globally, fielding has never been so crisp. Through years of trial and error, as some theories were binned and others became theorems, the skills required for various positions on the field have been honed. The introduction of Twenty20 has undoubtedly sped up the evolution of fielding, as evidenced by the number of self-assisted boundary catches that are taken nowadays. It seems there is now a correct way of pulling off the extraordinary.
Even in east Africa, cricket development officers working on the border of Uganda and Kenya have noted how modern teachings have allowed athletic kids, with no previous exposure to cricket, to become exceptional fielders, almost overnight.
That's not to say fielding can't or won't evolve further. Just as George Bailey showed in the Ashes series, with his array of volleyball parries from short leg, there's always room for innovation. There was certainly something novel about Australia's Chicago-born fielding coach Mike Young, as he used a baseball bat to send cleanly struck high balls from the middle to the boundary's edge during the mid-innings break.
Young has been around the Australia set-up since 2007, when he initially worked closely with Ricky Ponting and John Buchanan. Since then, he has been involved with various international and domestic sides in one form or another, including a stint with Glamorgan last year, as a specialist fielding coach for their Twenty20 campaign.
Talk to him for 15 minutes on throwing and you will have all you need to know about searing in a flat one from the rope as well as the physiology of the human arm. He's very much in the "learn by doing" camp, a big believer that volume of practice helps perfect throwing mechanics and "arm patterns". Warner was quick to praise the effect of Young - "he tells us to keep it tight" - and Steve Rixon, Australia's assistant coach, who have polished this talented bunch of individuals into an all-seeing, all-stopping force.
The fielding brilliance of Warner, Clarke and Glenn Maxwell, and those not playing here today like Steven Smith and Mitchell Johnson - not forgetting the high standard on show in the Big Bash League - underlines the high standards that Australia are seeking once more. Their encounter with South Africa next month is the meeting of two of best fielding sides in the world.
We are no longer in an era where individuals are vaunted for excelling at specific facets of fielding - Heath Streak's bullet arm, Upul Chandana's freakish reflexes or Jonty Rhodes' ambivalence to the laws of physics. International fielders must be bucket-handed walls, and Australia have some of the deepest and biggest in the game.