It’s one thing to talk about positive intent, batting mantras and aggressive game-plans. It’s another to put them into practice on the biggest stage.
Today England faced Australia, the most successful World Cup team in cricket history, who had never lost a semi-final in seven attempts – and they smashed them off the park to set up a final with New Zealand.
Even the most one-eyed fan would have struggled to imagine such a dominant performance, with eight wickets and 107 balls to spare at the end of a jubilant day in which England grabbed the initiative inside the first five minutes and simply didn’t allow their opponents a glimpse of it from then on.
After Eoin Morgan lost the toss and Australia elected to bat at Edgbaston the hosts thought they were going to be tested. In a tournament where batting first has presented itself as the winning model, England would have to do it the hard way.
No problem. Having rediscovered their confidence with wins over India and New Zealand, they were on it – not quite from ball one, which David Warner struck for four, but from ball two.
It seems faintly ridiculous now, but earlier this year debate raged in some quarters around whether Jofra Archer should be fast-tracked into the team. With his first ball in the biggest game of his career he presented a perfect seam, nipped the ball back and struck the opposing captain lbw.
After cutting Alex Carey’s chin with a vicious bouncer he returned to outfox the dangerous Glenn Maxwell with an ingenious knuckle-ball – a slower variation which he appears to have developed overnight.
With one game left to play Archer (2-32) has now taken 19 wickets – more than any other England bowler has ever managed at a World Cup – at an average of 22.05, with a tournament-high 338 dot balls also to his name.
The outstanding Chris Woakes (3-20) nicked off David Warner and bowled the all-at-sea Peter Handscomb before Morgan’s captaincy came to the fore.
With Steve Smith and Carey combining for a hundred partnership, taking Adil Rashid for 30 runs from his opening four overs, other captains might have bowed to the pressure. Not Morgan, who stuck to his attacking principles and was rewarded when his leg-spinner dismissed Carey and Marcus Stoinis in the same over.
The pressure was unrelenting, as Archer returned to pick up Maxwell and the lower order was stifled in eye-catching fashion, with Jos Buttler producing a never-seen-before nutmeg run-out of Smith.
Australia left the hosts 224 to win. Considering all three of England’s World Cup defeats – against Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Australia – had come chasing, with only one success against the West Indies, it wasn’t a done deal.
However, Jason Roy (85 from 65 balls) and Jonny Bairstow quickly quashed any lingering nerves. The duo, who now average over 70 together in one-day internationals, put on yet another trademark hundred partnership, with Roy treating the Edgbaston crowd to some brutal ball-striking, at one stage hitting Smith for three consecutive sixes over long-on.
Morale crushed, Morgan (45 not out) and Joe Root (49 not out) knocked off the runs before rain rolled across Birmingham.
England couldn’t have scripted it better. Morgan summed it up: “We set the tone early and when we got on top we made Australia pay.”
New Zealand and a first World Cup final since 1992 now await at Lord’s on Sunday, with a first-time winner guaranteed.
With Sky’s coverage to be available on free-to-air television via a deal with Channel 4, the opportunity is there for cricket to grip the nation to an extent that perhaps it hasn’t since the 2005 Ashes.
Flintoff’s unplayable over to Ponting. Harmison’s slower ball. Pratt’s run-out. Pietersen’s 158 at The Oval.
How this England would love to create some new unforgettable moments of their own at Lord’s.
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