England completed a dream ending to their nightmare Ashes tour as one of sport’s great comebacks sealed the Commonwealth Bank Series.
Andrew Flintoff’s men, destined for an ignominious exit from the tournament a fortnight ago, gained some revenge for the Test whitewash with a 2-0 win over Australia in the finals.
Having rediscovered the confidence sucked from them during that 5-0 drubbing and a disastrous start to the triangular tournament, England triumphed by 34 runs in a rain-affected contest at the SCG.
Just as in the first final at the MCG on Friday, they were well worth their victory with Paul Collingwood once again man of the match with a top score of 70, two wickets and a stunning catch.
There can have been few turnarounds as dramatic as the one this England team has undergone.
They hit rock-bottom when they were humiliated twice in a week in Adelaide, making scores of 120 and 110 against New Zealand and Australia respectively.
Their chances of making the finals were wafer-thin when, having lost five of their first six matches and 24 of their previous 31 against top-class opposition, they were required to win their remaining two matches of the group stage.
Sparked by a first triumph over Australia this winter on the same ground 10 days ago, England have now won four one-day internationals in a row against top-eight Test teams for the first time in Duncan Fletcher’s seven and a half years in charge.
The last time an England side managed that was back in 1997 when they lifted the Sharjah Cup, their previous one-day trophy abroad.
Shane Warne reckoned his script writer was working overtime during the Ashes but there was no such fairytale ending for fellow veteran Glenn McGrath.
McGrath, who retires after the forthcoming World Cup, did take a wicket with what turned out to be his final ball on Australian soil when Paul Nixon holed out at deep midwicket to conclude England’s innings at 246 for eight.
With sides batting first successful more often than not in day-nighters in Sydney, Flintoff won an important toss and with a competitive score on the board England’s bowlers got to work.
Three disruptions for rain made it a stop-start chase, ultimately of 211 in 33 overs, but the loss of a handful of wickets to the new ball meant Australia were always lagging behind the Duckworth-Lewis score.
A fine reflex catch by Collingwood at short cover from a drive by Matthew Hayden gave Sajid Mahmood the breakthrough after a rollicking start to the innings.
Then Liam Plunkett got to work with prized trio Ricky Ponting, Adam Gilchrist and Michael Clarke all out to swinging deliveries at pace.
Ponting was well held low down at slip by Andrew Strauss before the first stoppage came at 39 for two.
It proved the most dramatic of re-starts after a 45-minute interim, however, as Plunkett unleashed a booming inswinger from around the wicket from the first ball back to knock over Gilchrist’s off-stump.
England could even afford for Brad Hodge, who top-scored with 49, to be dropped on nought by Collingwood in an action-packed over because two balls later Plunkett found the edge of Clarke’s bat.
When Flintoff angled one across left-hander Michael Hussey to provide another chance for Strauss, Australia were reeling on 63 for five in the 12th over.
Another shower threatened to take the best-of-three finals to Adelaide, particularly as ground staff dawdled in covering the playing area much to Flintoff’s annoyance.
At that stage England still needed to send down another 22 deliveries to constitute a contest. They rushed through them on resumption and any flicker of an Australian comeback was doused by Jamie Dalrymple’s flying, one-danded grab at backward point which saw Shane Watson perish.
That was Collingwood’s first success of two - Brad Hogg skied to Flintoff at midwicket - while Dalrymple answered being hit for six by Hodge by having him caught at cover.
Most of the 40,000 crowd had disappeared by the time another downpour forced the players off for a final time at 10.38pm with the Australians 152 for eight from 27 overs.
England made an unflustered start but the innings lost momentum after the second shower of the day.
Resuming on 79 for one after 18 overs, they lost the unorthodox Mal Loye to the first ball of the resumption when, in trying to steal a single after Ian Bell guided behind point, he was left well short by Hayden’s direct hit at the striker’s end.
Loye enhanced his bid for a World Cup spot with a combination of pulls, drives in addition to a signature slog sweep for six off left-armer Nathan Bracken.
His departure, however, triggered a mini-collapse of three for 33, damage which had to be repaired by the canny Collingwood and Flintoff, whose 42 was terminated when a booming drive stuck in Brett Lee’s hand on the follow-through.
England only managed 59 runs from the final 10 overs due to the loss of their power hitter and Collingwood, who followed back-to-back hundreds with another perfectly-paced contribution, also perished, caught behind from an audacious reverse sweep at Bracken.
Having been flogged for 90% of the tour, England return home with some reputations restored and others like Paul Nixon, who dived into the crowd at the end of a lap of honour, in line to extend their international careers into the World Cup.
Australia v England.
At Sydney. England beat Australia by 34 runs (D/L Method). England won toss.
E C Joyce c Hodge b McGrath…15
M B Loye run out …45
I R Bell run out …26
A J Strauss c Gilchrist b Bracken…6
P D Collingwood c Gilchrist b Bracken…70
A Flintoff c & b Lee…42
J W M Dalrymple run out …5
P A Nixon c Hodge b McGrath…6
L E Plunkett not out …8
Extras (b5 lb4 w9 nb5) …23
Total 8 wkts (50 overs)…246
Fall of wickets: 1-34, 2-79, 3-86, 4-112, 5-209, 6-231, 7-233, 8-246.
Did not bat: S I Mahmood, M S Panesar.
Bowling: Lee 10-0-53-1; Bracken 10-1-38-2; McGrath 10-0-41-2; Watson 8-0-46-0; Hussey 2-0-12-0; Hogg 10-0-47-0.
A C Gilchrist b Plunkett…20
M L Hayden c Collingwood b Mahmood…5
R T Ponting c Strauss b Plunkett…7
M J Clarke c Nixon b Plunkett…0
B J Hodge c Bell b Dalrymple…49
M E K Hussey c Strauss b Flintoff…0
S R Watson c Dalrymple b Collingwood…37
G B Hogg c Flintoff b Collingwood…10
B Lee not out …10
N W Bracken not out …3
Extras (lb2 w6 nb3) …11
Total 8 wkts (27 overs)…152
Fall of wickets: 1-25, 2-33, 3-39, 4-40, 5-63, 6-109, 7-132, 8-139.
Did not bat: G D McGrath.
Bowling: Plunkett 6-0-43-3; Mahmood 6-0-31-1; Flintoff 5-1-10-1; Panesar 2-0-15-0; Dalrymple 4-0-25-1; Collingwood 4-0-26-2.