Australia’s run at a sixth World Cup trophy fell apart in spectacular fashion last night as they were bossed by England.
The hosts scarcely could have been more emphatic in moving through to their first World Cup final in 27 years, first skittling Australia for 223 and then chasing that total down in a canter.
Australia needed early wickets to try to turn the screws on England but instead the star English opening combination prospered once more. Jason Roy and Jonny Bairstow have engineered many successful ODI chases in the past two years, often via brutality.
Yesterday, though, they cleverly made a point of playing with greater restraint in the opening 10 overs. Having neutered the new ball threat they returned to doing what they adore – peppering the boundaries.
Roy and Bairstow thumped 74 from the next seven overs before the latter was out LBW to Mitchell Starc. Australia’s hopes had rested heavily on Starc performing witchcraft but instead he had an off day and was punished.
England’s 124-run opening stand set up their impressive win, which sent them into a World Cup final showdown with New Zealand.
The hosts will be favourites for that match after recording three resounding wins in a row over Australia, New Zealand and India. But the Kiwis showed with their upset victory over India in the semi-final that they must be respected.
What is certain is that in a couple of days from now we will have a first-time World Cup winner, with neither England nor New Zealand ever having won this tournament.
Earlier, Australia were ambushed by a wonderful new ball spell from Chris Woakes (3-20 from 8 overs) and Jofra Archer (2-32 from 10 overs). On a pitch offering just enough seam movement and bounce to keep the batsmen honest, that pair exploited the conditions.
Australia’s tournament had been built on the dominance of their opening combination of Aaron Finch and David Warner, who combined had piled up 1,145 runs at 67.
The consistent success of this pair had largely shielded Australia’s vulnerable middle order. Yesterday this underbelly was given early exposure.
First Finch was out in a classical Finch manner, trapped LBW playing around his front pad to an off cutter from Archer. England were excited.
Then Woakes got a back-of-a-length delivery to rear on Warner, who edged to first slip. England were amped. Soon after Peter Handscomb, too, was out in a familiar manner.
His feet got stuck on the crease, his hands searched for the ball, a void was created between bat and pad and his blade steered the ball on to the stumps. England were ecstatic.
With Smith looking decidedly scratchy, finding the inside edge as often as the middle, England appeared a strong chance of rolling over Australia.
Deliveries were seaming, skidding, stopping, popping – the lot. Or so it seemed, at least, such were the struggles of the Australian batsmen. In reality the pitch played quite well as Smith (85) and Carey (46) showed during their 103-run stand.
That pair first soaked up the pressure and then began to milk the English bowlers, who posed little threat from overs 12 through to 27.
Then, just as Australia were beginning to build a decent platform, Carey had a brainfade. Having played within himself up to that point, continuing his excellent World Cup, he lost concentration and chipped a delivery from Adil Rashid straight to deep midwicket.
The English leg spinner had struggled badly up to that point, with 0-30 from 4.1 overs. Carey’s mistake not only spurred Rashid on but gave England the opening they had sought for 21 overs.
Two balls later he produced a fine googly to bowl the clueless Marcus Stoinis, ending the Australian all-rounder’s nightmare tournament.
Glenn Maxwell moved fluently to 22 at a run a ball before being undone by a wizardly piece of bowling. Archer, having pushed Maxwell deep in his crease with some searing short balls, produced a wonderful knuckle ball which floated through the air, kicked off the pitch and deceived the Australian, who spooned the ball to cover.
Replays showed Archer holding the ball normally in his delivery stride only to, at the last possible moment, slide it back in his hand, grip it with his fingertips and deliver this befuddling changeup.
It was a display of rare skill. That description sums up the England performance as a whole. This was arguably their most complete performance of the tournament to date.
England bowled with discipline, fielded brilliantly, and then showcased their renowned batting ability. A lot of analysis will focus on Australia’s failings but it must be said England were all over them from the first over.
The hosts were far too good.