Ricky Ponting took it upon himself to put Australia's tour back on track, leading from the front with a 93-ball 92, and ensuring against the indignity of a whitewash at the hands of the old enemy. But while that coveted 5-0 scoreline is now beyond England's reach, Ponting stopped short of declaring that normal service had been resumed. With the series long gone, he was happy simply to inject some confidence into his squad - in particular a bowling attack that is someway short of a first-choice line-up, but is rapidly developing a style of its own.
At Old Trafford it was Shaun Tait and Doug Bollinger who clawed their team right back into the contest by instigating a collapse of six for 18 in the closing overs of England's run-chase. Today, it was the other 90mph man in their ranks, Ryan Harris, who stepped into the vacancy left by a host of senior men, including Mitchell Johnson and Brett Lee. His third five-wicket haul in 16 ODI appearances first thwarted England's bid for momentum then ushered them straight to the exit. The final margin - 78 runs - was arguably the most comprehensive beating meted out by either side in this series.
"We've lost the series, but it's nice to play well, and I'm proud of the boys for the way they played today," said Ponting. "We're not that far away, but you don't need to be that far away to be shown up in international cricket, like we were in the first three games. What I said to the boys this morning was that we had to keep backing their instincts and talents, and soon enough our best cricket was going to come out.
"I thought the way we controlled the game today was pretty good," Ponting added. "To make 290 batting first was always going to be a hard total to chase, and Ryan and the boys did a great job with the ball. When you're in a situation like we were today, 3-0 down, it says a lot to be able to bounce back, to pick yourself up and play a game like we did today. That's what I'm most proud of from the group."
England were on the back foot throughout their run-chase - metaphorically and literally - thanks largely to the ferocity that Shaun Tait's belated inclusion has brought to the line-up. He was not at his absolute best on this occasion, but he didn't need to be, because his mere presence has helped to bring out the best in his colleagues, who set themselves to attack from the word go, rather than sit back and await their fate - as they did with particularly dire consequences at the Rose Bowl.
"We had our noses in front in the entire bowling innings and to close the game out the way we did gives us great confidence going into the last game," said Ponting. "Our attack for the last few years has been Johnson and Lee, so we've always had that firepower. If anything, we lacked zip in the first few games and we lacked the ability to get the batsmen off the front foot. Tait has been able to do that for us, because having that firepower to take wickets through those middle overs is vital in one-day cricket."
On this occasion, however, it was Harris who reaped the rewards of Australia's renewed aggression, as he collected his third Man of the Match award in 15 ODIs this year. "That was probably my best performance," he said. "I've been happy with the way I've been bowling, because I've been going out there with no fear and knowing I can get anyone out. I'm bowling quicker than I was three or four years ago, and I'm looking after myself and keeping my body strong."
Australia's management know all about the challenges of keeping their fast bowlers fit, and Ponting admitted he longed for the day he could take his pick of every one of the seven or eight men who are challenging for selection in the run-in to the Ashes and the World Cup.
"We've been tested a lot in the past 12-18 months, the amount of injuries to our quicks has been hard to deal with and cope with," he said. "Even when you have four men on the tour, at some stage they'll pick up niggles and you have to manage them. But put Lee, Johnson, Hilfenhaus and Siddle back into your group and suddenly your stocks look really good again.
Having big Josh Hazlewood here has been good as well, he's had some exposure, and Smithy [Steven Smith] has stood up well in the last few games. But I'm looking forward to having all those guys to pick from. It'll be nice as captain not having to worry about injuries."
England vs Australia
Australia tour of England and Ireland
Andrew Miller is UK editor of Cricinfo.