Forget the rain, last night showed Australia will steamroll England

Ronan O'Connell Columnist

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    Australia’s fearsome bowling attack last night sent a loud message to England ahead of the Ashes rivals’ blockbuster Champions Trophy match on Saturday.

    After washouts against New Zealand and Bangladesh, Australia must beat England to stay in the tournament. England’s destructive batting line-up has mauled many opponents over the past two years and poses a major threat to the Australian attack.

    But the Australian bowlers showed they were peaking at the right time as they skittled Bangladesh for 182 overnight. Quicks Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood and Pat Cummins milked every possible bit of assistance from the flat pitch at The Oval, while spinners Adam Zampa and Travis Head added fine balance to the attack with their accurate offerings.

    The English batsmen would have loved the limp, wayward display they saw from the Australian bowlers in last week’s match against New Zealand. The Australian attack was always likely to improve after producing what skipper Steve Smith described as “one of the worst bowling displays that we’ve put on for a very long time” against the Kiwis.

    The world’s best new-ball pair, Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazlewood, were predictably brilliant. The biggest positive for Australia, however, came from the impressive efforts of Cummins, Zampa and Head.

    Pat Cummins Australia Cricket

    (AFP / Paul Ellis)

    Each of those three bowlers had question marks over their bowling, for varied reasons, leading into this game. Cummins was fresh from a shocker against the Kiwis, Zampa has been treated shabbily by the Australian selectors this year, and Head was still seeking to prove he was more than just a part-timer.

    Each of them should have cemented their spots for the do-or-die match against England. They also should have earned significant confidence.

    Express quick Cummins, who bullied the English batsmen the last time Australia toured England, was in ominous touch. He pushed the speed gun up to 152kmh, earned disconcerting bounce and, most importantly, operated with great precision after his scattergun display against the Kiwis.

    Cummins was, in my opinion, the player of the series when Australia beat England 3-2 away from home in their most recent ODI series. On lifeless pitches, he grabbed 12 wickets at 19 in that series. To underscore just how impressive that was, consider that England’s seven pacemen used in that series together averaged 44.

    Four of those seven quicks – Liam Plunkett, Mark Wood, Steven Finn and Ben Stokes – look likely to face Australia on Saturday. The widely-acknowledged gulf in quality between the the two ODI attacks was highlighted by the fact Australia rolled Bangladesh for 182 after the Tigers put up 305 against England.

    Bangladesh were fortunate to have even made that many runs against Australia. More than half their total came from the blade of Tamim Iqbal (95). But the opener’s knock was very streaky, punctuated by a series of lucky breaks, including a straightforward dropped catch at point by Glenn Maxwell and a slew of mishits which evaded fieldsmen.

    Eventually, Tamim was knocked over by Starc, who finished with a burst of four wickets in the space of nine deliveries. Having been sidelined for months after getting injured during the Test series in India back in March, Starc was trying to build some momentum.

    The superstar left armer seemed to find great rhythm as the innings wore on. Combined with Hazlewood’s wonderful form and the intimidating performance by Cummins last night, Australia’s pace unit suddenly looks ripe to tackle England.

    mitchell-starc-australia-cricket-odi-2017

    (AAP Image/David Mariuz)

    And their attack was far better balanced thanks to the presence of Zampa and Head. As I wrote in the lead up to the Bangladesh match, Australia’s obsession with pace was hurting the side.

    They look a far better unit with Zampa in their XI at the expense of a fourth frontline pacemen in John Hastings. The gifted leg-spinner was not employed until the 35th over last night, before finishing with figures of 2-13 from four overs. Captain Steve Smith decided to first use offie Head, which seemed to be a clear plan to combat the two lefties at the crease.

    Head was so effective in this role, conceding only 17 runs from his first seven overs, that he continued bowling longer than expected, delaying Zampa’s spell. When the leggie came on, he immediately showed why he should be an automatic fixture in the Australian line-up, taking two key wickets in his first two overs.

    Operating with his trademark accuracy, Zampa regularly pinned the Bangladeshi batsmen to the crease. The 25-year-old is adept at tying batsmen down during the middle overs of an ODI innings and will have a crucial role to do just this against England, who love to score swiftly through their full 50 overs.

    The best bowling attack in ODI cricket versus the format’s most aggressive batting line-up – Australia’s clash with England should be a fantastic spectacle.

    Ronan O
    Ronan O'Connell

    Ronan O'Connell has been a journalist for well over 13 years, including nine at daily newspapers in WA. He now traverses the world as a travel photojournalist, contributing words and photography to more than 30 magazines and newspapers including CNN, BBC, The Toronto Star, The Guardian, The South China Morning Post, The Irish Examiner and The Australian Financial Review. Check out his work and follow him on Twitter @ronanoco

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