One-day cricket is all about scoring lots of runs. Usually. This clash between England and Australia only produced 412 of them, but it did produce a contest of massive intensity and excitement that, in the end, just went Australia's way as Michael Bevan and Andy Bichel put on an unbeaten 73 in 12 overs for the ninth wicket to get home with just two balls to spare.
It all started so well for England. Marcus Trescothick and Nick Knight put on 66 from 62 balls and the large English contingent in the crowd could not stop waving the flag of St George at St George's Park. Alas for them, their suspicion that this was too good to last proved to be as accurate as Bichel's bowling and the fall of four wickets inside three overs left the scorecard with an all too familiar look to English eyes.
Trescothick has been in dreadful form for most of the southern summer and there was more than a touch of desperation as he advanced down the pitch flailing at Glenn McGrath in the first over. However, McGrath twice uncharacteristically dropped short outside off stump in the same over and Trescothick punched them both to the backward point boundary to set the tempo for the early part of the innings.
Confidence surged back through Trescothick's body and with Knight playing in his one hundredth one-day international with an assured freedom, runs began to flow. McGrath was struggling to find the right length, while Brett Lee was bowling with easy athleticism on a pitch that did not really help him. Lee had to rely on generating his own pace - and he did - but that did not concern Trescothick who, in the fourth over, pulled him imperiously over long leg for six.
The fifty came up from 45 balls and the Australians looked rattled. It could not last. Bichel was brought into the attack to replace the expensive Lee and suddenly the normality of Anglo-Australian contests of modern times returned.
Bichel's fifth ball had Knight trying to steer a ball wide of off stump wider of the solitary slip, but Damien Martyn took a good catch to his left. Michael Vaughan successfully negotiated Bichel's next ball, but off the first of his next over he got the thinnest of edges and Gilchrist took a simple catch. Nasser Hussain entered, and departed five balls later when he got a perfect ball from Bichel that pinned back his off stump.
This was the time to consolidate, but Trescothick took half a step down the pitch to drive McGrath and edged firmly to Martyn at slip. England, from dizzy heights, had slumped into a trough from which, against these Australians, few sides escape.
Alec Stewart and Paul Collingwood did stem the haemorrhage of wickets for five overs while they added 13 runs before Bichel claimed his fourth wicket with a ball that was not his best. Collingwood went to slash it through the off side off the front foot, but he only succeeded in edging to Gilchrist and England were 87 for five in the 18th over.
After that clatter of wickets had left the innings in disarray, Stewart and Andrew Flintoff set about a rebuilding task that was vital if England were to even get close to a defendable total. It required all Stewart's experience and Flintoff's newly found responsibility to settle things down and they profited from the fact that Australian captain Ricky Ponting was forced to rest the immaculate Bichel and employ some lesser bowlers. That meant all the others on this day.
Andrew Symonds was identified as the man to attack once the batsmen had settled in. He went for 20 from his two overs as Stewart and Flintoff added 90 for the sixth wicket. It took them 25 overs to do so, but that did not matter in the context of the innings.
Bichel was resting during this restructuring, but he returned to end England's revival in decisive fashion. Flintoff went to swing him high on the leg side for six. He succeeded in hitting it high, but straight up in the air and Gilchrist ended a very valuable and thoughtful effort from Flintoff.
In Bichel's next over he bowled straight and Stewart did not play straight. It was a poor end to an important innings under pressure, while Ashley Giles completed Bichel's seven-wicket haul with a checked drive to mid-off where Bevan plucked the ball out of the air with his fingertips.
Andrew Caddick kept Craig White company to see out the final few balls of the innings but only 33 runs came from the final ten overs. Bichel's final figures were 10-0-20-7 and he thoroughly deserved them by keeping the ball pitched up, bowling straight and getting movement throughout.
Matthew Hayden and Adam Gilchrist emulated England's start when they set out after England's total of 204 for eight in their 50 overs. Whereas it was Andy Bichel who destroyed England, it was Andy Caddick who made the breakthrough for England.
In the third over of the innings, he saw Hayden pulling only to send a catch high towards mid-on with Giles underneath it. Runs were still flowing but when Caddick dropped short to Gilchrist and he sent it high down to third man where Vaughan caught it, dropped it, scooped it up and held it in a piece of fielding that seemed to take an eternity.
Three balls later, Martyn moved across his stumps to be adjudged lbw, although the height had to be in doubt. The decision went Caddick's way to complete a double-wicket maiden, and Caddick was not finished yet.
The first ball of the ninth over was just short of a length outside the off stump. Ponting thumped it in front of square on the leg side for six. All informed opinion suggested that it was not the place to bowl at Ponting. Caddick does not always subscribe to such conventional wisdom and banged the fourth ball in short again. Ponting pulled high towards long leg and Giles held the catch without the juggling act that Vaughan had put on minutes earlier. Caddick, and the whole of England, would have been grateful for that and just grateful for taking another wicket.
They would certainly have liked another to follow that, but with great resolve Darren Lehmann and Bevan dug in to try to rescue Australia's innings in the way that Stewart and Flintoff had for England.
They contented themselves with pushing the ball into gaps rather than going for the expansive strokes that had got Australia off to a flying start in terms of run rate but had cost them dearly in the wickets column. At the halfway point in their reply, Australia had reached 96 for four, scoring at slightly below the required rate but having doused England's early fire.
They had added 63 in 20 overs before England regained the initiative by taking wickets. It was White, bowling with great economy on a pitch offering him every possible help, who made the breakthrough for which England had been searching by dismissing his brother-in law, Lehmann who edged to Stewart behind the wicket and the partnership was broken with Nelson aboard.
Giles returned to the attack now there was a right-hander at whom to bowl and obliged by dismissing Symonds before he could contribute significantly to the cause. Symonds mistimed a drive and Giles held onto a firmly hit drive low to his left.
Brad Hogg succumbed to Giles in his next over when trying to cut only for Stewart to take a difficult, juggling catch, and Brett Lee was beaten by a superb throw from White to leave Bevan with Bichel to try to nudge Australia home.
There are few better than Bevan in such a situation, while Bichel is certainly no mug with the bat and had already had an indication that this was his day. Gradually they took Australia closer and closer to the target as Hussain changed his bowlers in an effort to unsettle the batsmen, get a breakthrough and conserve something for the closing overs.
James Anderson was preferred to Caddick to bowl the 49th with 14 required. Bevan took a single off the first ball before Bichel hoisted the second onto the top of the scoreboard over mid-wicket. Next ball was driven close to Caddick at mid-on, but with too much pace for the fielder and it went to the boundary.
With another run in the over, only two were needed off the last bowled by Flintoff. There was a dot ball to start, and Flintoff got his hand to a firm drive from Bichel but the ball escaped his grasp for another dot. Tension was mounting again but it all evaporated when the next ball was played fairly gently to mid-on and Vaughan committed a schoolboy error by allowing the ball to go between his legs for a single.
Bevan completed the formalities by stroking the next ball to the boundary and it was match over. England have been getting closer and closer to beating Australia but, at the end of a riveting contest, it was the men in green and gold who emerged on top once again.
The result might not affect England's chances of qualifying for the Super Six. They still need Pakistan to beat Zimbabwe in the last group match, even though a win would have covered them from the possibility of shared points in that match. The real damage will be felt should their run rate enable them to get to the next stage, when points gained from beating fellow-qualifiers will carry a premium.