Bopara the latest to click for England

Ravi Bopara looked in good touch for his 82 AFP

At each stage of this season the expectation has been that the next challenge will push England harder. West Indies were going to be better in one-dayers than Tests and better still in the Twenty20, while Australia, ranked No. 1 in the world, would push this England 50-over side to their limits. That could still happen over the remaining three matches, but at the moment the home side are winning and the margins are getting wider not narrower.

The latest victory, by six wickets at The Oval with more than four overs to spare, takes them to eight in a row and equals their best run in one-day internationals. Some will no doubt pick holes in the three oppositions by saying Pakistan were not very interested after a Test whitewash, West Indies cannot play the moving ball and Australia have not warmed up, but that would do England a huge disservice.

While maintaining all the usual caveats about England's record in Asia and at World Cups, a formidable one-day team is taking shape. With each victory, certainly the recent ones during this home season, another piece of the jigsaw puzzle has slotted into place. Against West Indies it was Ian Bell's return as opener followed by the flourishing hundred stand with Alastair Cook at The Oval which showed that two orthodox batsmen can work together.

Moving into the Australia series, at Lord's it was the return to form, in breathtaking fashion, of Eoin Morgan, who is crucial to the long-term direction of this team. Then, on Sunday, in front of a full house who savoured every moment of Australia's struggle (try telling them there is too much England-Australia as chants of "easy, easy" went around the ground) it was the turn of Ravi Bopara to take his share of the limelight, with 82 off 85 balls to take England to the brink of victory.

Bopara always seems to be in the position where each series is his 'big' - or even last - chance. Already, at this stage of the season, the murmurings were starting again, despite his 59 in the Twenty20 against West Indies. His two significant opportunities to make a mark in the 50-over format - at West End and Lord's - had ended with edges against Marlon Samuels and Clint McKay.

There is a generation of young batsmen trying to force their way in, even if they are not yet quite bashing the door down, but Bopara started his career so young that it is easy to forget that he is only 27; a batsman's prime is thought to be from around 28 to 32. The best years could be ahead of him although chances will not be endless.

"I think I'm batting as well as I ever had," he said. "A few changes I've made over the last six months have worked for me. It was nice, I enjoyed myself. I told myself to just watch the ball and hit it. That's when I play my best."

It was a very good day for Bopara all-round. He struck with his third ball to claim the key wicket of Michael Clarke and stymie Australia's momentum - his five overs cost just 16 runs - and it should not be underestimated how playing a part in one discipline can benefit another. With five frontline bowlers Alastair Cook does not have to fill many overs at the moment, but by bowling Bopara before Graeme Swann he showed some flexibility that was rewarded.

Bopara, though, still remains prone to the occasional brain fade which will not be going unnoticed by Andy Flower. It feels harsh to criticise a matchwinning innings, but the early stages brought some uncertain running and neither could he stay right until the end, as he chanced a single to mid-off. Yet either side of those moments were the drives, pulls and flicks that highlight his quality.

This was comfortably his highest score against Australia after 10 previous innings had brought a best of 49, also at The Oval, after the tough 2009 Ashes series which set back his Test career. Bopara is still trying to get a sustained run at reclaiming that place in England's five-day batting order - he would have played against West Indies except for an untimely thigh strain - but Jonny Bairstow's early problems and now the form Bopara is showing surely mean he will get his chance against South Africa.

"I'm not thinking about Test cricket at the moment, we have three more games against Australia we have to win and that's all I'm concentrating on," he said. "We just have to look after what have to do in the next few days rather than think a month ahead."

Over those next few days England could wrap up their seventh consecutive home one-day series win with victory at Edgbaston. Then the possibility of that 5-0 series whitewash, which would be enough to send them top of the one-day table, would be tantalisingly close. The expectation is that Australia will get better - but if they do this England team will just see it as another challenge to overcome.