Paul Collingwood's match-winning century at Melbourne was not your typical one-day starring role. He struck at less than a run-a-ball and managed only seven fours and one six but his mastery of a difficult situation earned him lavish praise from his captain Andrew Flintoff.
Collingwood's unbeaten 120 has put Australia on the back foot, needing to win the next two games to win a CB Series they never looked like losing. Flintoff said that, combined with the tough circumstances Collingwood found himself in - he came to the crease at 3 for 15 in the sixth over chasing 253 - made it a near-perfect innings.
"In all my time playing one-day cricket for England, wearing the blue shirt, I think that's the best innings I've seen," Flintoff said. "The way he paced it, his stamina, his concentration was a lesson for everyone watching." Flintoff, smiling occasionally but missing the slightly bewildered grin he wore permanently after leading England to their previous win over Australia, said it had also been Collingwood who rescued his team in the field.
At 1 for 170 in the 31st over, Australia looked set for a mammoth total when a sensational diving catch by Collingwood at cover removed Ricky Ponting for 75. "That sparked us, that catch," Flintoff said. "At that time Australia were on top of us, the bit of magic seemed to turn it around for us."
New Zealand might be out of the competition but Jacob Oram was still haunting the Australians. Collingwood credited Oram's dropped caught and bowled on Tuesday with helping him find form again after a lacklustre opening to the series. Collingwood went on to make 106 against New Zealand and turned it into consecutive centuries at the MCG.
"It's amazing once you have a bit of luck out in the middle," Collingwood said. "Jacob Oram dropped us on 18 the other day and just managed to get up to 30 and 40 and felt really comfortable in the middle again."
Luck was something that deserted Australia but they had nobody to blame but themselves for their below-average fielding and bowling performance. Ponting said it could have been game over had Glenn McGrath held a simple chance when Ian Bell was 18 and the score was 3 for 33. "He's usually pretty safe under those high balls," Ponting said.
Ponting said the last 70 overs of the match were disappointing after Australia's excellent start and he and Matthew Hayden, who made 75 and 82, "need a rap over the knuckles" for failing to convert their half-centuries into triple-figures.
"You want to play your best cricket in finals," Ponting said. "We probably played our worst game for a long time in a final tonight." But Ponting would not concede the series was lost, pointing to last year's come-from-behind 2-1 tri-series win over Sri Lanka as proof his team could yet claim a prize they considered rightfully theirs.