A matter of Australian resurgence and English desperation
It doesn’t really matter if England were a world-beating side in the last four years. In a home tournament, that loss in the previous game has shattered their confidence and mental doubts have crept up.
9-1. That was England’s dominance over Australia in ODI cricket over the last couple years. Just that score-line won’t tell you the whole picture though; while there has been an English reformation in one-day cricket, the Australian team has been on a roller-coaster ride in the last two years or so.
This is not an ordinary contest. It is a mean rivalry, bordering on the passion of India-Pakistan, albeit missing some of its colour and fervour. Going into this contest, that dominant run can create mental pressure, which is vital in sport. It is the only thing that matters, apart from what the scorecard says on a particular day, of course.
None of it mattered on Tuesday at Lord’s however. In sport, your own mental space is more important than your opponent’s, especially if you are looking to exert pressure from a previously dominant streak. As such, it presented a weird scenario for England –pre-tournament favourites and hosts, who botched things up against Sri Lanka, and now are in a battle with mathematics to get into the last four.
It doesn’t really matter if England were a world-beating side in the last four years. In a home tournament, that loss in the previous game has shattered their confidence and mental doubts have crept up. That dominant run doesn’t matter, either. This is a different Australian side –both David Warner and Steve Smith are back, scoring runs, whilst different aspects of their playing combination are clicking together.
So much so, they are now experimenting with different combinations, and why not? Playing at Lord’s, Australia knew this was about making a point, for they will be visiting this ground a few more times later in the summer. The crowd turned up, booing Smith and Warner, and all seemed normal with English cricket. That loss against Sri Lanka was a blip, seemingly.
Only it wasn’t – English pacers dropped the ball, metaphorically, when greeted with seaming conditions. They bowled shorter to Aaron Finch and David Warner, allowing them both to play off the back foot and get comfortable. By the time they started bowling full, the most in-form opening pair in this competition started driving them off the front foot.
Australia were chugging along in no time, and both Finch-Warner celebrated half-centuries. At that point in time, you just wondered out aloud –were the wheels starting to come off England’s campaign? It was too early to make this judgement, for Australia are known to slow down in the middle thanks to Usman Khawaja. It happened again, although for a change their run-rate didn’t suffer too much. But the inevitable Australian collapse did come through – from 123/1 to 259/7, and then finishing atleast 50 runs short of where they wanted to be.
On any other day, 286 would be an ordinary target for this English line-up. After all, this is the batting side credited with changing how ODI cricket is played in the modern-era. 300 isn’t enough any more – 320-340 is par for course. And this English team have notched records in the past four years, breaking through the 400 and 450 ceiling as well.
On this day though, things were different. This isn’t bilateral cricket – in a world tournament, conditions don’t stay the same, and bowling attacks change in shape as well as strength. One day, you are smacking Afghanistan for nearly 400 despite a slow start and on another day, you fail to chase 233 against Sri Lanka.
England came into this World all hot, and full of bluster, but they have blown hot and cold through this tournament. They failed to chase against Pakistan, and then against Lanka, and now Australia – three defeats in seven games. Skipper Eoin Morgan had expected defeats during the league stage, but not even in his worst dreams would he have envisaged a scenario where they would be struggling to make the semis. It is a nightmare, for sure.
As it was when England were reduced to 26-3 and 53-4 in this mediocre chase by lofty ODI standards nowadays. Unlike English pacers, Australia didn’t bowl short and well pitched-up deliveries cleared up James Vince and Joe Root, while Eoin Morgan found Mitchell Starc’s pace too tough to handle. Statistically, it was the key difference between both sides – start to the innings can be pretty defining, especially in a chase.
But the English batting wilted because of a lack of partnerships. The attacking mind-set is so entrenched in these batsmen that they cannot nurture an innings over by over. They have to play that attacking stroke and go for that extra run, even when the situation doesn’t demand it. Remember how Rohit Sharma batted in second gear against South Africa in tough conditions and in a 220-odd chase of attrition took India home?
This English side though is too egoistic to watch some random batting videos and emulate that effort. They want to do things their way – it has been their mantra since 2015. Well, they have got what they wished for, and now have to beat India and New Zealand to have any semblance of a comfortable passage to the knockouts. Meanwhile, Australia have entered yet-another semi-final, a feat that seemed impossible until recently.
And that was the underlying theme from Lord’s on Tuesday – this wasn’t a match-up between the English and Australian sides we have known recently. Instead, it was the defending champions against a team that is panicking in its search of a semi-final at a home tournament. It was a matter of Australian resurgence and English desperation, the latter now teetering on the verge of a stunning collapse.