Not since Andy Bichel claimed 7/20 and 34 not out at the 2003 World Cup has an Australian enjoyed a more extraordinary all-round performance at the prestige tournament as Adam Zampa’s in a tense 33-run win over England to extend their victory streak to five.
While his figures were far from as dramatic as in Bichel’s performance 20 years ago – coincidentally, also against England – that rightly entered World Cup folklore, the leg-spinner’s miserly spell of 3/21 from his 10 overs strangled the life out of a manageable run chase of 287 in Ahmedabad.
His bowling alone, which included the scalps of captain Jos Buttler plus set pair Ben Stokes (64) and Moeen Ali (42) in a game-changing spell in the later over, would have surely been enough for player of the match honours on their own.
But earlier, Zampa had struck a priceless 19-ball 29 batting at number 10 to take Australia from 8/247 to 286 all out in the final six overs, a total that, thanks in large to him, proved enough.
To add icing to the cake, the 31-year old even managed to outdo Bichel’s famed all-round performance with a stunning piece of fielding as well, a spectacular diving catch on the mid-wicket boundary to remove the dangerous David Willey all but ensuring Australia’s victory.
While a late cameo from Chris Woakes (32) kept the flame flickering, even depositing Pat Cummins over long-off for an enormous six, the Australians never looked likely to drop the match, with both he and Adil Rashid (20) dying by the sword to see England bowled out with 11 balls still remaining.
“The ball has probably come out as good as it ever has tonight,” Zampa said after his match-winning turn.
“My length control was really satisfying. It feels good this one.
“One of those days – it feels good, satisfying to have a day like that, and be on the winner’s board.”
“He was at his best tonight,” captain Pat Cummins said of Zampa’s performance.
“He’s been bowling beautifully the last few games – he got 30-odd and took a hanger out there. Fantastic. He’s a match-winner.
While far from emphatic, mostly down to a spirited display from England amid a torrid time in India, the win all but guarantees Australia a semi-final berth with games against Afghanistan and Bangladesh to come – and with Mitchell Marsh set to return to the squad in coming days having returned to Perth due to the passing of his grandfather and Glenn Maxwell also set to be back from concussion for Tuesday night’s match against Afghanistan, they can be more than pleased with their performance.
The result officially ends the already miniscule chances their opponents had at clawing their way into the final four, with England remaining rooted to the bottom of the table with just one win from seven matches, while the 5-2 Aussies are staring at a semi-final date with the loser of India and South Africa’s Sunday night (AEDT) clash.
“I feel like every game we’ve just improved a little bit – I still don’t think we’ve played the complete game or really closed out a game,” Cummins said after the match.
“But the good thing is that every game there’s different match-winners. It feels like it’s all coming together.
“We’ve obviously got ‘Maxy’ [Maxwell] and ‘Mitchy’ [Marsh] who are going to be back in at some stage – they both have had great tournaments so far.
“We feel like we’ve got a whole squad who can walk out there and perform if we need to. Everyone’s desperate to play, so we’re going to be struggling to pick an XI.”
Having turned their tournament around off the back of dominating batting performances from openers David Warner and Travis Head, the Aussies were forced to find another way when both departed within six overs to Ashes nemesis Chris Woakes.
Having begun to turn around his woeful tournament in England’s loss to India, the seamer’s angle across the left-handed Head brought about an early edge to Joe Root at slip; while Warner, two balls after depositing the game’s first six, attempted to go again but could only top-edge a simple chance.
Amid questions over whether Australia could fit both Steve Smith and Marnus Labuschagne in the same ODI team, the pair found themselves in an ideal situation for their talents: needing to restore order after early blows, the Test stars added 75 in 16 overs at a minimum of fuss.
The first sign of the leg-spin success that would prove key to the match came when Adil Rashid struck twice in quick succession to threaten to derail the innings; Smith miscuing a cut to Moeen Ali at backward point on 44 shortly followed when Inglis reverse-swept to the same man for just 3.
The bedrock of the middle overs, Labuschagne’s knock was one of slow acceleration: having struggled to 12 for 27 with his limitations in rotating the strike readily apparent, the fall of Smith saw a more attacking side of the Queenslander.
Bringing up his half-century off 63 balls, Labuschagne was one of the few Aussies able to dent Rashid’s excellent figures, finding regular singles in between a well-timed cut for four past point – the exact shot that had proved Smith’s downfall.
With Mark Wood particularly expensive as Cameron Green got going, anything wide getting met by the Western Australian’s powerful cut shot, a guided Labuschagne boundary to third man left the popular paceman looking aghast at another run-heavy outing.
His fortunes, though, would instantly turn, trapping Labuschagne LBW on 71 one ball later, the Australian’s bemusement at the wicket not abating even after three reds on ball-tracker confirmed the loss of the review he’d instantly called for.
Brought in for Marsh and Maxwell, the all-rounders Green and Marcus Stoinis looked to continue to accelerate things, Green’s strokeplay crisp and Stoinis’ hitting looking sharp after a stint on the sidelines mid-tournament.
A well-deserved half-century was denied Green after an attempt to clip David Willey to fine leg saw him lose his leg stump, with Stoinis soon following suit going for a third big shot off England part-timer Liam Livingstone.
Having clubbed the leg-spinner for a six and a four, Stoinis couldn’t clear the long Ahmedabad boundary at cow corner, with Jonny Bairstow taking an excellent overhead catch to leave Australia 7/241 and in a spot of bother.
An over later, Wood made it eight down when Cummins looked to heave across the line but top-edged to mid-wicket, only for Zampa and Starc to ensure a competitive total was reached with a gutsy tailend partnership.
Having reportedly not batted at all in the nets during his time in India, Zampa was far from comfortable against the pace of Wood, though a crunched drive back past the bowler was one any specialist batter would be proud of.
All up, Zampa would muster four boundaries in his 19-ball cameo, with he and Starc also finding plenty of singles to add what would prove a vital 38 runs before the leg-spinner tried one big shot too many, a final-over slog off Woakes going straight up to present Jos Buttler with a simple catch.
For the second match in a row, Australia would find themselves bowled out with balls to spare when Starc was caught at cover to end the innings and hand Woakes his fourth wicket of the innings: still, 286 seemed eminently gettable, even with England’s batting the primary reason for their tournament from hell.
Sure enough, disaster struck on the very first ball of the run chase, with Bairstow’s nightmare run continuing as he strangled a loose Starc offering to Josh Inglis down the leg side for a golden duck.
Australia’s luck was in, a fact confirmed by Joe Root’s dismissal to Starc mere minutes later: neither Inglis nor the bowler so much as appealed for an edge behind, but Cummins’ review, having been persuaded by an adamant and perpetually enthusiastic Labuschagne at cover, would find a faint noise on Ultra-edge to seal the English star’s fate.
At 2/19, Stokes arrived with one of his frequent rescue jobs badly required: duly deciding to dig in for the long haul, he’d face 37 balls for just 14 runs before hitting his first boundary.
With Dawid Malan also accumulating rather than accelerating, the run rate quickly climbed beyond six per over, though the threat of a Stokes onslaught remained ever-present.
A six down the ground off Travis Head ensured Australia would be unable to burgle quick overs from their part-time spinner, and while Malan fell to a catch at fine leg one ball after raising his half-century, it was the Test captain who was the clear prized wicket.
Not even the quick departure of Jos Buttler, desperately trying to up the ante but only slicing Zampa to long off for 1, could trouble Stokes, with he and Moeen combining to steadily tick down the runs and leave Australian nerves jangling.
A monster six off Starc to bring up his 50 signalled at last the beginning of a Stokes assault, launching Head over deep mid-wicket for another just three balls later to ensure the run rate fell back below eight an over.
With Moeen bludgeoning Stoinis for a pair of boundaries to keep up his end of the bargain, 118 runs from the final 15 overs with both batters set had England close to favourites.
Enter Zampa – brought back into the attack by Cummins, his first over conceded just two runs, and brought with it the fall of Stokes caught at short fine leg, to instantly turn the tide back Australia’s way.
He’d account for Moeen too, a slog-sweep finding Warner in the deep after Livingstone had spooned a catch off Cummins for 1; the loss of three wickets for just 17 runs exposing the England tail with plenty still to do.
England’s is far from a conventional lower order, though: after seeing off the brilliant Zampa, whose 21 runs stands as comfortably the lowest conceded in a full 10-over spell at the tournament to date, the pace of Starc and Hazlewood proved more agreeable for Woakes and Willey to mount a last stand.
With Woakes twice smashing the left-armer through the off side for four, and Willey following suit to whip Hazlewood through mid-wicket, some more Zampa magic was required.
Unable to do it with ball or bat, this time he did it in the field: with Hazlewood swung into the deep by Willey, the leg-spinner ran full pelt around the boundary behind square, dove, and snaffled a stunning catch.
Still England wouldn’t yield: with Woakes smacking Cummins down the ground for six, Australia found themselves still with 44 to defend from the final three overs, but needing to turn to part-timer Stoinis for two of them.
A high full toss top-edged over fine leg for six – and lucky to avoid being called for a no-ball too – would had had palms sweaty, but the all-rounder recovered to close out the over, with Woakes heaving another full toss to Labuschagne at deep mid-wicket to all but end the fight.
One ball later, Rashid too would succumb, top-edging Hazlewood straight to be safely pouched by Inglis with England still 33 short.
“It feels like we’re having the same chat after every game,” a disconsolate Buttler said after his team’s latest loss.
“There were some improvements again today, but still short. It’s a low point. To be stood in this position, when you arrive in India with high hopes, is incredibly tough, incredibly disappointing. It hurts a lot.
“We certainly haven’t done ourselves justice – we fancied ourselves to have a real go at it [winning the World Cup]… we feel like we’ve let people down. You wear that on your own shoulders.”
With matches against the Netherlands and Pakistan to come, England’s one chance of salvaging some pride from the wreckage of their disastrous World Cup defence would be to avoid failing to qualify for the 2025 Champions Trophy, with only the top seven teams at this tournament, as well as hosts Pakistan, to get there.
Australia, though, have higher ambitions: now a win and net run rate clear inside the top three, a single win over the vastly improved Afghanistan or the struggling Bangladesh would guarantee them a semi-final berth – and in all likelihood, avoid needing to face red-hot favourites and hosts India until the final.