NatWest Challenge, The Oval: England 228-7 lost to Australia 229-2 by eight wickets
Australia win series 2-1
Adam Gilchrist struck a sublime century as Australia claimed the third and deciding NatWest Challenge match with a mammoth eight-wicket win at The Oval.
Chasing England's 228-7, the visitors won with 15.1 overs to spare on the back of Gilchrist's 101-ball 121, a knock including two sixes and 17 fours.
England's total would have been worse if not for the 93-run stand between Kevin Pietersen and Vikram Solanki.
Solanki, subbed on for Simon Jones, made 53 and Pietersen an 84-ball 74.
It was a fine advert for Pietersen's Ashes hopes, but worryingly for England he left the field in the third over of Australia's run-chase with a groin problem.
Australia, with batsman Simon Katich as their substitute, were quick to put England in after winning the toss.
The early loss of Marcus Trescothick, caught for a duck to become Brett Lee's 200th one-day victim, and remarkably tight bowling from Glenn McGrath had England on the defensive from the outset.
Scoreless off McGrath's first 27 balls, England should have been two down on his 28th only for Jason Gillespie to drop skipper Michael Vaughan in the deep.
And England were given another boost next over when Gilchrist dropped Andrew Strauss's top-edged pull.
They were reprieves which should have set England on their way, particularly with Australia choosing to keep the field up.
But a Ricky Ponting direct hit to remove Vaughan in the 13th over was the first of five wickets to fall for 49 runs.
Solanki batted well as England's substitute player
Both Strauss and the disappointing Andrew Flintoff feathered Kasprowicz behind, while Jason Gillespie (3-44) ousted Paul Collingwood and Geraint Jones to catches.
It was Jones' dismissal, with the score 93-6, which prompted England to weaken their attack and substitute Simon Jones for Solanki.
The move worked to the extent that Solanki's seventh-wicket union with Pietersen - an England record against Australia - spared home blushes.
Pietersen, faced with such adversity, played a fine innings that started with requisite caution and grew in authority.
Included in eight boundaries was an audacious front-foot hook off Gillespie, while the first of two sixes saw Kasprowicz end up over the rope having pouched a stunning one-handed catch.
David Shepherd skips and jumps in his final international
Gillespie, capping a definite return to form, soon got his revenge when stopping Pietersen in his tracks with a deft slower ball which rattled middle-and-leg.
Solanki, second fiddle to that point, tried to carry on where Pietersen left off, driving Gillespie to the long-on fence next over.
He received good support from Ashley Giles (25 not out), but both were made to work hard with McGrath and Lee excellent at the death.
The suspicion that 228-7 would be insufficient was quickly reaffirmed in electrifying fashion by Australia's openers, who raced to 45-0 after five overs.
Matthew Hayden, returning from a shoulder complaint, took Darren Gough for three fours in an over, and Adam Gilchrist bettered that by one in Steve Harmison's next over.
Gilchrist sauntered past his previous best score against England this summer (42) with an array of attacking shots, highlighted by a two huge sixes off Ashley Giles. Only Flintoff (0-34) was able to restrict the freewheeling Aussie.
The breakthrough came when Gough, back in the attack, had Hayden caught behind for 31.
But that only brought Ponting to the crease, and on the back of his century at Lord's he confirmed that his early-tour slump was a thing of the past.
He joined Gilchrist in clubbing England's attack from pillar to post, with both particularly tough on Harmison (0-81).
A hooked boundary awarded a delighted Gilchrist his 11th one-day century, though with victory in sight Ponting (43) was stumped off Giles.
With the score on 222-2, David Shepherd, umpiring in his final international match, performed his signature 'Double Nelson' one last time.
It was one of the last acts before Damien Martyn pulled a Harmison no-ball to the fence to secure victory, and ensure England head into the Ashes with much to ponder.