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12 July, 2019 02:43:33 PM / LAST MODIFIED: 12 July, 2019 04:05:20 PM

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'Fire-breathing England can go all the way'

Independent Online/ BBC
 'Fire-breathing England can go all the way'
Photo: Courtesy

English sporting semi-finals have not been happy experiences in the past 12 months. Too much heartbreak, too many what-ifs, too many next times.

The only what-ifs at Edgbaston were what England might have scored had they batted their full 50 overs.

The heartbreak was all Australian. The next time is a World Cup final at Lord's on Sunday.

On Monday, Australia's players had taken their shoes and socks off and walked the outfield here. The idea was to feel the positive energy coming out of the earth. On Thursday England took their pants down for them too.

Some of it came from England's outstanding opening bowlers, who produced a combined spell of 3-27 off their first 11 overs.

Even more came from Jason Roy, smashing 85 off 65 balls to turn a run-chase into a run-romp, crashing Steve Smith for three consecutive sixes, the last somewhere into Solihull.

It came fizzing back at Australia from the stands, because there are few places as fun to be as an England supporter than Edgbaston when Australia are in town.

It had been 9,989 days since England last beat Australia in the World Cup, but it has also been 26 years since the dominant cricketing nation of that quarter-century have won at this ground.

England come here and to Trent Bridge like a team transformed from the one that has routinely been rolled over at Lord's across the same period, to the one that was comprehensively beaten by Aaron Finch's men in north-west London just a fortnight ago.

On Thursday morning, Australia won the toss. That was supposed to be half the battle in this tournament of faltering chases and slow pitches. David Warner then clattered the opening delivery from Chris Woakes through extra cover for four.

As auguries go it was a giant raspberry. Almost nothing Australia did from that moment on went right. Almost everything England touched turned to gold.

Australia's openers had produced 43% of their side's runs in the tournament to this point. The partnership of Finch and Warner has averaged 127 a match. Finch had four centuries in his previous nine innings against England.

This was different. This was Edgbaston, this was England - the souped-up, fire-breathing, chest-beating England.

Jofra Archer bowled full and fast to trap Finch lbw for a golden duck. Woakes produced pace and bounce to get Warner snagged in the slips.

A game that was to end with choruses of "cricket's coming home" had its course set. Even then few in the jubilant home support could have envisaged just how one-dimensional the plot would be.

No fourth-act terrors, no jeopardy, no crisis for the hero to fight his way through. It was a summer blockbuster in which the evil nemesis turned out to be a pantomime dame. England fans first booed and then laughed.

World Cup semi-finals are not supposed to be like this. For starters, Australia usually win them. Since England last reached the last four of the World Cup Australia have actually won the thing four times.

They are also not meant to resemble Test cricket in their opening exchanges, but that is how Edgbaston felt under the high clouds: three slips in, a batsman left bleeding and in need of stitches after having his helmet knocked off by a fast bowler, a team limping to 27 off the first 10 overs.

The third Australia wicket went down with just 14 runs on the board, which, given Australia's record in this competition, was actually being used as a promising sign by some. The only time they had endured a worst start to a semi-final - slipping to 8-3 in Mohali in 1996 - they still went on to win.

But this is not the Australia of then and this is not the same old England.

The story of this team's rise to the world number one ranking has predominantly been one of blistering batting. When runs have come fast the team have bullied their opponents into submission.

On Thursday the bowling was fast and it was unrelenting.

Peter Handscomb had last batted against Gloucestershire second XI 12 days ago. It was nowhere near the sort of preparation he required to face Archer breezing in to deliver 90mph howitzers.

His stumps had bolted long before he closed the gate between his bat and front pad against Woakes.

It is not just about raw pace with Archer. He has now bowled 338 dot balls in the tournament, more than any other bowler. Together with Woakes he produced 45 scoreless deliveries from the first 60 bowled.

There is artistry too: the knuckle-ball that foxed Glenn Maxwell into spooning a catch to Eoin Morgan at cover, a ruse so effective that the number seven was still blaming the pitch when he was halfway to the pavilion.

Archer finished with 2-32 from 10 overs, a blend of parsimony and raw terror that was complemented first by Woakes' 3-20 off eight and then Adil Rashid's three wickets as Australia threatened a fightback that never came.

A target of 224 might have been tricky to overhaul. No-one has been able to chase in this World Cup. Mitchell Starc had taken 22 of his 26 wickets bowling second.

Instead the total went up in smoke and the party kicked upwards and on. Starc ended up being serenaded by the same song that had been used to torment another fast-bowling Mitchell Johnson. If that hadn't ended well for England, Roy and Jonny Bairstow turned the volume up and cut loose.

Seldom was this slogging. It was a calculated assault that married risk to reward with supreme balance.

When Nathan Lyon came on in the 11th over, the ball having turned appreciably for Rashid, Roy lofted his first ball over long-on for six. A single apiece, then a reverse-sweep for four.

It was thrilling and sensible at the same time, and that was before Finch had gambled on spin at the other end from Smith.

A single, a wide, a single, a deep breath. Six down the ground, six down the ground, six almost out of the ground.

Roy may have been deprived his century by a howler of an umpiring decision but England could not be stopped.

When Morgan clattered the winning runs just after 17:00 BST his side were 114 runs ahead on Duckworth-Lewis. They had 107 balls to spare. That's almost an entire Twenty20 innings.

As Morgan and Joe Root embraced in the middle, the galleries at Edgbaston serenaded them with half-cut abandon. A semi-final at last had been a staging post rather than the finish line.

Sixteen days after England teetered on the brink of elimination, maybe - just maybe - there is more to come yet.

HM

 

 

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Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
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Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman
Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

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