Andrew Strauss admitted he was "annoyed" that England had let slip the chance of a 5-0 whitewash against Australia, but played down suggestions that he had erred tactically in once again choosing to bowl first after winning the toss. After allowing Australia first use of a fast and true wicket, England were set an imposing target of 291, their highest run-chase of the series so far, but were bundled out by Ryan Harris for 212 in 42.4 overs.
"We didn't get enough things right today," said Strauss. "We got off to a pretty good start with the ball, but [Michael] Clarke and [Ricky] Ponting played really well in the middle period, where we had done best in the first three games. We struggled to find ways of 'dotting them up', which was a little bit frustrating. We tried seven bowlers, but on a flat wicket it was easy to hit through the line of the ball."
Bowling first has been England's modus operandi throughout the series to date, even though such a tactic flies in the face of conventional wisdom. With a varied attack that had helped to carry England to a run of eight ODI victories in a row - their best run of form since the 1992 World Cup - and batsmen of the calibre of Eoin Morgan and Kevin Pietersen, England believe they have the personnel to keep any target within reach. But that notion received a bit of a reality check on a chastening day at The Oval.
"It wasn't as good a performance as the first three, and we've got what we've deserved," said Strauss. "The idea of chasing down anything Australia set us has worked pretty well in the first three games - and we didn't see any particular reason to change that today. When you lose in that fashion, you always think 'Well, maybe we should have batted first'. But I'm pretty comfortable with that decision. I just don't think we did enough things well today."
England have improved markedly as a one-day unit in recent months, but as Ponting made clear with his memorable "bragging rights" comment at Cardiff, they have an awfully long way to go to match the achievements and consistency of Australia's one-day side - who, after all, haven't lost a single World Cup match in the whole of the 21st Century. Another victory at Lord's on Saturday would transform that 5-0 ambition into a far less imposing 3-2 result. It remains to be seen whether Strauss sticks to his guns by fielding first in that game.
"You've got to play to your strengths, it's as simple as that," was Ponting's take on the tactics. "If they think it's in their interests to keep chasing they'll keep doing it. They obviously like bowling first and trying to chase the runs down, although it's not my preferred way of playing. If it's dry when you start, it always gets that little bit tougher and it makes chasing hard.
"But I wasn't as surprised they bowled first as I was at Manchester," Ponting added. "That was a wicket I thought looked particularly dry and hard to chase on, and as the game went on it certainly was that. But they seem to be very structured in everything they are doing at the moment, the way they are playing their cricket. We'll see what they do at Lord's."
For Strauss, the disappointment of the result was tempered by the small successes that came out of the game, such as Michael Yardy's maiden ODI fifty - a tenacious but even-tempoed 57 from 63 balls that prevented England's challenge from disintegrating until the final ten overs.
"He played really well, and has played a lot of innings like that for Sussex - knocking the ball around, accumulating pretty quickly, and clearly we needed him to do that today," said Strauss. "He stepped up to the plate - and on the back of his bowling in the first three games, it was good to see him scoring some runs. If you haven't scored a one-day international fifty before, the first one is very important - regardless of the situation of the game.
"The whitewash wasn't a secret hope. We were very hopeful we could do it," he said. "What we were trying to focus on was getting it to 4-0, trying not to look too far ahead. But Australia did what you expect them to do; they came back hard at us today and put in the better performances. They had three excellent performances in the game, and that's why they won."