A week ago people were worried about dead rubbers.
The International Cricket Council have Sri Lanka to thank for changing the conversation, because with England meeting Australia at Lord’s tomorrow that concern is nowhere near the top of the agenda.
England’s defeat on Friday has put the cat amongst the pigeons, upping the ante and turning up the pressure on the World Cup favourites to remind everyone just why they hold that tag.
The hosts’ situation – sitting in fourth place with their remaining games against the current top three of Australia, India and New Zealand – means sandpaper shouldn’t matter either, despite Eoin Morgan stirring the pot by saying fans can “do what they want” in reaction to the presence of Steve Smith and David Warner.
This is the perfect set up for the match: a heady mix mix of back-story, rivalry and, crucially, importance to the points table. While England don’t absolutely need to win to secure a semi-final place, they won’t want to leave progression down to their results against the only two currently unbeaten sides.
It’s amazing how the pendulum can swing in sport. England have spent the last four years beating all comers, climbing the one-day international rankings and developing an aggressive, effective style of play. Australia, meanwhile, have endured plenty of bumps in the road since their 2015 World Cup win, with Smith and Warner’s one-year ban for ball-tampering contributing to an identity crisis of sorts.
England may have lost a warm-up match last month but they have won nine of the last 10 ODIs between the two teams. Australia, meanwhile, have admitted to trying and failing to copy their game-plan.
And yet they meet tomorrow with the narrative not quite turned on its head, but certainly vastly altered.
The nature of the 20-run defeat by Sri Lanka and the ongoing absence of key opener Jason Roy means the usually impenetrable armour of England is now showing areas of weakness.
With openers Warner and Aaron Finch having posted 843 runs in 12 innings at a combined average of 70.25 and Mitchell Starc in prolific form, with 15 wickets at 20.26, Australia undoubtedly have the weapons to exploit them.
A green-tinged pitch, which has to hold up for Australia’s tie against New Zealand on Saturday, means Starc and Pat Cummins may well get a surface which suits them nicely. Lord’s has historically been a happy hunting ground for Australia too, with eight ODI wins to England’s five in head-to-head contests at the venue since 1972.
“When we get beaten we tend to come back quite strong, we tend to resort to aggressive, smart, positive cricket,” said Morgan after the Sri Lanka loss. He’s right, and England certainly have the firepower to do just that.
Jofra Archer and Mark Wood can be just as frightening as Starc and Cummins and have taken 27 tournament wickets at a combined average of 17.42, while the form of Joe Root is also a massive positive, with the No3 having scored 424 runs at 84.80 in six innings.
“This tournament is going to be about who can hold their nerve in the big moments,” said Australia coach Justin Langer in the build-up.
England have earned their title as the best ODI side in the world. If they want to win the World Cup they need to master the big moments – starting tomorrow at Lord’s.