England will meet Australia in the finals of the VB Series after securing the bonus point they needed at a sizzling Adelaide Oval. Despite losing by four wickets after being bowled out for 152, England restricted the hosts to 113 for six in the first 40 overs of their reply, to take the one point they needed to reach the best-of-three finals.
As a whole, the game was a lacklustre affair. Two early wickets for England, including that of Adam Gilchrist, forced Australia on to the defensive at the start of their run chase. Jimmy Maher was the first to go, caught behind off a thin leg-side edge by Alec Stewart off James Anderson, and Andrew Caddick then produced a beauty for Gilchrist, which left him off the seam for Marcus Trescothick to pouch a straightforward slip catch.
Forced to take stock with inexperienced batting to follow, Damien Martyn and Michael Bevan proceeded cautiously against the excellent Caddick and Anderson, both of whom bowled their ten overs off the reel. Anderson was particularly miserly, bowling a remarkable five maidens on the trot and finishing with figures of one for 12.
Bevan and Martyn added 91 for the third wicket before Bevan (30), sweeping at Ian Blackwell in the 33rd over, was neatly held by Nick Knight at backward square leg. Brett Lee, sent in to accelerate the scoring, failed to make any impression, swinging Michael Vaughan high to short fine leg where Paul Collingwood took an easy catch.
Collingwood also accounted for Martyn (59), with a brilliant diving catch at cover as Martyn drove at Blackwell. Andrew Symonds was smartly stumped by Stewart before he had scored, failing to keep his foot behind the line as he left a ball from Blackwell. But debutant Michael Clarke made an unruffled 39 off 47 deliveries, and along with Shane Watson (13*) saw Australia home with two and a half overs to spare.
Earlier, Paul Collingwood made an unbeaten 63 as England made a largely unimpressive 152 off 48.3 overs. Australia's 25-year-old left-armer Nathan Bracken was the pick of their depleted attack, taking 3-21 in the absence of the injured Shane Warne, Glenn McGrath and Jason Gillespie.
After Nasser Hussain won the toss, England at one stage crumbled to 73 for six off 25 overs. Bracken, who was playing his first one-day international for nearly two years, removed Trescothick (6) and Nick Knight (11), both caught behind and induced a return catch from Hussain with a slower ball before he had scored.
Brad Williams took the vital wicket of Michael Vaughan, who had made 21 off 22 balls when he was caught behind in the ninth over. Shane Watson dismissed Alec Stewart (6) and Ian Blackwell (0) to continue England's derailment.
Collingwood was joined by Ronnie Irani, who helped him add 45 before Clarke had Irani caught at long-on for 20 in the 40th over. With Andy Caddick, Jimmy Anderson and Matthew Hoggard all failed to reach double figures, Collingwood ended unbeaten, his 63 coming off 106 balls with three fours and a six.
England's defeat is the latest in a four-year run at the hands of Australia, who meet Sri Lanka next in the last, meaningless round-robin game. The first of the best-of-three finals is at Sydney on Thursday.