By Scott Heinrich
BBC Sport at Edgbaston
Whether they care to admit it or not, this was the contest England had yearned for all summer.
It was a measure of the team's recent advance that they had become tired of pounding West Indies and had started thinking of their old foes, Australia.
Certainly the fans wanted to see England face the litmus test, even if the outcome of a one-off one-day match could not really be seen as indicative in terms of next year's Ashes series.
Michael Vaughan answered his critics with the bat
It is dangerous to say, with a Champions Trophy final still to be won, that this richly deserved victory rounds off what has been a memorable season of cricket.
But it provides evidence in spades just how far this England team has come in both forms of the game.
It also provides Australia with a reminder that they can be beaten by England. With nine months to go before the Ashes starts, those memories could either dissipate or they could fester.
The spotlight was on Andrew Flintoff and Steve Harmison, England's two most improved players during their rise to prominence.
Bowling figures of 1-56 and 1-53 respectively suggest they failed to live up to their billing.
Although neither bagged a hatful of wickets, they were not intimidated by reputations and both showed a willingness to rough-up Australia's dangerous shotmakers with short stuff.
Harmison laid down a marker with his first ball, which cramped Adam Gilchrist for room, and went on to consistently tip over the 90mph mark.
Harmison tested the mettle of the Australian batsmen
Flintoff's early introduction was a necessary course to take after Darren Gough had gone for 18 runs in three profligate overs.
The all-rounder was given some harsh treatment by Darren Lehmann, but responded in kind with some abrasive, if not entirely effective, bowling.
Harmison and Flintoff will carry the weight of expectation when England try to win the Ashes for the first time since 1986/7 next year, and they emerged from this clash with self-belief intact.
In the end, it was left to skipper Michael Vaughan and Marcus Trescothick, with help from Andrew Strauss, to marshal the chase and lead England to their first win over Australia in 15 games.
It is not often that Glenn McGrath, 35 in February, is sent to the fence four times in an over, but Trescothick did just that en route to a typically uncompromising 81.
Vaughan emulated Trescothick's feat against Brett Lee as well as dusting off his all-too-rare off-spinners to take two wickets and help restrict Australia to a score which proved insufficient.
We keep on hearing that Vaughan is not a one-day cricketer, but he gave the impression of a very good one with an important captain's knock of 86.
There is something about Australia which brings out the best in the England captain, who filled his boots in the 2002/3 Ashes Down Under.
His batting has been mixed since taking the captaincy, but as far as Australia are concerned it was business as usual for Vaughan.
Strauss' contribution, a stylish half-century, should not be overlooked.
As unflappable as ever, the left-hander clearly enjoyed his first foray against Australia and will be anticipating his next with relish.
Coach Duncan Fletcher will not allow England to get carried away with this result - and Australia certainly have more to offer.
But if Vaughan's men set out to sound a warning, they did so in deafening fashion.