England 6 for 253 (Collingwood 120*, Bell 65, Lee 3-41) beat Australia 252 (Hayden 82, Ponting 75, Flintoff 3-41) by four wickets
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details

Paul Collingwood was the match-sealer with a brilliant 120 from 133 balls © Getty Images

England recovered from two near-death experiences and Paul Collingwood produced back-to-back centuries to steal the first CB Series final at the MCG. After being dominated by Matthew Hayden and Ricky Ponting in the afternoon, England fought back to restrict their target to 253 and then dropped to the severe danger of 3 for 15.

The situation did not worry Collingwood, who had already taken a brilliant catch and two sharp run-outs, and he combined with Ian Bell, Andrew Flintoff and Paul Nixon to secure the tight win with three balls to spare. Australia were as shocked as England were happy when Collingwood struck the winning run through midwicket to finish with a magnificent 120 from 133 deliveries.

With Flintoff (35) and Collingwood in partnership England were confident of winning, but they lost Flintoff and Jamie Dalrymple to require 28 to win in 23 balls. Collingwood remained cool and once he had taken consecutive boundaries from Shane Watson in the 48th over he could not be stopped.

Collingwood, who scored 106 against New Zealand on Tuesday, began with a lofted boundary over mid-on before working the ball around the massive ground with precision. When he needed a single he grabbed one and he found seven fours and a spectacular straight six that added to Glenn McGrath's woes.

England overcame their horrible early position through Collingwood's 133-run partnership with Ian Bell and as they felt more comfortable they upgraded from occupation to renovation. The turning point in their important stand came when they picked up 47 runs between the 18th and 23rd over. From then on, as Duncan Fletcher predicted this week, the Australians were the ones feeling the pressure.

McGrath spent much of his 37th birthday grumbling, especially after he dropped Bell on 18 and then assisted Brett Lee in messing up a run-out of Flintoff on 2. In a strange sequence Collingwood could also have been dismissed if Adam Gilchrist had removed the bails at his end instead of throwing to the jostling bowlers. Ponting rearranged his attack and while Brad Hogg was unlucky, especially when his wrong'uns were mis-read, it was Lee who created the most danger with 3 for 41.

After two wickets in his opening spell Lee struck again at the end of his second with a fierce yorker to take care of Bell for a composed 65 off 90 balls. It created some doubt for England, but Collingwood, Flintoff and Nixon (11 off 10) erased it. At the conclusion the Australians could barely believe their position.

Matthew Hayden led Australia with 82, but his team-mates were unable to build on his gains © Getty Images

Hayden and Ponting provided the perfect platform for Australia and were severely let down by the remainder of the batsmen. They lost 3 for 26 after easing to 1 for 170 and their aim for a total of 300-plus disappeared when the lower order collapsed in a manner reminiscent of their opponents during the Test series. Not only did Australia give up their last six wickets for 23 runs, they were dismissed in the 49th over when Flintoff picked up his third victim.

The procession was started by Monty Panesar and Collingwood's snappy dive to remove Ponting. Hayden grabbed a polished 82 from 102 deliveries while Ponting breezed to 75 during a partnership of 138 in 148 balls that put Australia in extreme comfort.

Ponting was in reach of a third consecutive century until Collingwood intervened and Hayden was also on the verge of three figures when he left 10 runs later. Brad Hodge departed for 5 and after a brief rally Michael Clarke (33) and Michael Hussey (17) fell in consecutive balls. Collingwood's direct hit did for Clarke and Australia were 6 for 229 when Hussey glided Flintoff to Nixon. The rest submitted meekly and quickly.

Panesar performed strongly again, taking 2 for 44 off ten overs, while Flintoff combined the roles of bowler and captain, capturing 3 for 41 and assuming essential roles in both comebacks. Flintoff was jubilant as England sealed their third win in a row and the second against a team that tormented him for most of the tour.

Australia have reduced the intensity of their training in the lead-up to the finals and today named a squad for New Zealand without Ponting or Gilchrist. They also eased up on England and paid for their planning that did not include such a courageous opponent. The teams head for Sydney on Sunday for the second final and England will be in the unfamiliar position of being able to wrap up the series.

Peter English is the Australasian editor of Cricinfo