James Toseland celebrated his 28th birthday with the best ride of his MotoGP career at Phillip Island on Sunday.

Although the Englishman ultimately finished (a career best equalling) sixth - for the sixth time this season - it was the manner in which he achieved the result that turned heads.

Toseland fought Valentino Rossi for third during the first half of the race, then spent the remainder of the grand prix in the thick of a thrilling four-way battle for fourth.

A strong start from fifth on the grid saw Toseland perfectly placed to inherit third when Dani Pedrosa slid off at turn two.

While Casey Stoner and Nicky Hayden escaped up front, Toseland briefly surrendered third to factory Yamaha rider Jorge Lorenzo on lap three, but retaliated with a bold move at the first corner on lap five.

It was the sign of things to come and Toseland was soon leading a three-way Yamaha dice that now included newly crowned six time MotoGP champion Rossi.

The Italian superstar soon passed race winning team-mate Lorenzo, but Toseland - riding in only his 16th grand prix, but a race winner at the 2007 Phillip Island WSBK event - proved a tougher prospect, Toseland twice re-passing Rossi until the #46 finally secured the position on lap 13 of 27.

"That was an unbelievable race," smiled James afterwards. "I just wanted to stay out of trouble but I had some incredible battles out there. The one with Valentino was something special. When he passed me I knew I had to get straight back by him.

"The rear was already spinning at that point and I tried everything I could to keep him behind me. When he did pass me and he pulled a gap, I did push a bit too hard and that cost me towards the end of the race. But it was an honour to be racing with Valentino and passing him," he admitted.

Rossi was still less than one second ahead of Toseland on lap 17, but the double WSBK champion now had his hands full defending fourth from Lorenzo, plus the Hondas of Dovizioso and Shinya Nakano stacked up behind the Spaniard.

Toseland mounted a successful defensive until three laps to go, when he came under a double attack from Lorenzo and Dovizioso into turn one, both of whom got past. The #52 began the last lap still in sixth, sandwiched closely between Dovizioso and Nakano, and ready to attack.

"I knew fourth was up for grabs so I tried to pass Andrea at Honda Hairpin on the last lap," he recalled. "We ran a bit wide [allowing Nakano ahead of them both] and Andrea seemed a bit upset but I passed him without touching him. I am sorry if he is upset, but he is upset for no reason. I was fighting for the best result of my MotoGP career so I had to try something."

Fellow rookie Dovizioso, who will graduate from JiR Team Scot to Repsol Honda next season, later branded Toseland's riding as 'a little dangerous'. The pair previously clashed at the French Grand Prix, when Toseland fell after clipping the back of the Italian.

"Toseland was too aggressive and a little dangerous while fighting for the lead of the group," declared Dovi, who was forced onto the grass at turn one when Lorenzo moved across in front of him. "At one of the corners, I had to go wide to avoid Toseland, but because of this Nakano made it past us both. I am sorry to have lost the fourth place because it was a reality today."

Dovizioso went on to finish at the tail of the lead group in seventh, but Toseland still hadn't given up on re-passing Nakano's factory Honda for a career-best fifth. "Shinya came by as I ran wide but I passed him back at Siberia, only for him to come right back underneath me because I ran a bit wide again," he revealed.

Nevertheless, after suffering something of a mid-season slump, Toseland was delighted with his combative display.

"I am just happy with the way I rode," he said. "I rode hard and I am really pleased that on my birthday I put a good show on and I could enjoy it. I was riding my heart out and when I have a ride like that and I pass Valentino it encourages me even more."

Team manager Herve Poncharal labelled Toseland's performance as 'incredible' and 'a really special show'.

"James was absolutely incredible today and he could not have done anymore to get his best result of the season," said the Frenchman. "James made an incredible start and when we saw him fighting in third we couldn't believe it because we weren't sure whether he could maintain the pace knowing how tough this track is for the tyres. But he kept his pace and that was impressive.

"He also fought very hard with some of the top guys in this championship. His fight with Valentino was extra special and terrific to watch. Not a lot of guys get passed by Valentino and then pass him straight back, so it was incredible to see him do this.

"We were dreaming of a podium at one point but the way he rode, I think he gave the fans a really special show. It was a great way to celebrate his birthday and I think he gave himself a good present with that ride," Herve concluded.

Toseland's team-mate Colin Edwards finished his 100th grand prix in eighth position.

"It is severely disappointing because I really believed that I could run up close to the podium today," said the Texan. "I was riding really hard so to finish eighth is frustrating. I felt like I was on the absolute limit at the pace I was running and it wasn't good enough. This isn't the way I wanted to celebrate my 100th grand prix, but congratulations to James. He rode a great race and I'll be looking for a lot more in Malaysia."

Sunday's result saw the Tech 3 Yamaha team move back into fourth place in the Teams' World Championship standings with two rounds to go.