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England vs Australia, semi-finals, ICC World Cup 2019: Form teams rev up cricket’s oldest rivalry

Champion teams know when to turn up the heat. And it probably benefitted Australia that they entered the tournament as underdogs despite being defending champions.

cricket Updated: Jul 11, 2019 14:21 IST
Somshuvra Laha
Somshuvra Laha
Hindustan Times, Manchester
England vs Australia,semi-finals,ICC World Cup 2019
England vs Australia, semi-finals(AFP)

Aaron Finch has his plans figured out. Optional training, followed by an afternoon screening of the ‘The Queen’s Corgi’ with his wife and Wednesday is sorted.

Thursday will keep the Australia skipper busy at Edgbaston. It’s another day in the office for Australia, this being their seventh World Cup semi-final. Nerves? Not really. Anxious? Probably. You won’t get any of those vibes from Australia though. They will train a bit, relax, sip on some coffee and let the game come to them. Calm and dissociated from the hype of playing the World Cup, Australia haven’t changed even though the team has over the years.

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Champion teams know when to turn up the heat. And it probably benefitted Australia that they entered the tournament as underdogs despite being defending champions. Losing to India added to the chatter as the world was ready to forgive Australia for not being themselves.

They have endured a lot over the past year. Walking barefoot at Edgbaston was probably a way of reminding themselves of a fantastic journey of redemption, from Cape Town to Birmingham. The openers have divided the workload, Steve Smith has been busy as usual, a new star has emerged in the form of Alex Carey and Mitchell Starc has been at his incisive best. They have peaked at the right time too. Australia had already put their feet up when others were still figuring the route to the semi-finals.

Resurgent England

Wind in their sails, smile on their faces, Australia would be more than eager to face New Zealand in the final again. But only after they tame the ‘animal’, according to Liam Plunkett, that England are now. The oldest rivalry in cricket was till few years ago a one-format spectacle. Till the 2015 World Cup, England had lost 77 matches and won 49 times against Australia. Since then, the head-to-head is 12-5 in favour of the hosts.

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All that, however, will count for zilch if England don’t assert themselves at the biggest stage. Coming off two consecutive wins help though, especially when one of them was against India. “I think (we are) probably more confident than we were three games ago. I think the loss against Sri Lanka hurt us. It was an overhang into the Lord’s game and then when we came here we managed to produce something similar to the cricket we have been playing over the last four years and that was really encouraging,” said England captain Eoin Morgan on Wednesday.

With Jason Roy and Jonny Bairstow emerging best openers and with a bowling attack that finds new ways to upset teams, England maybe doing themselves a disservice if they don’t finally win it. The pressure is immense. Morgan is not expressing it though.

“I think that is part and parcel of being the hosts, a little bit of home advantage. I think it plays a part here at Edgbaston. There is a reason we do have a lot of success here. The wicket tends to suit us but also the support as well,” said Morgan.

Reports say the second semi-final may witness few vacant stands but England aren’t perturbed. Two weeks back, they delivered in front of a sea of India supporters. It can’t get worse than that.

But trust Australia to not give two hoots about England’s enviable record at Edgbaston where they have not lost an ODI since 2013. If at all, they know how to eke out difficult wins, even with a constantly changing squad that has Peter Handscomb as the newest addition.

“I think World Cups are very special, they bring out the best in the best players, so I think that’s why Australia have had a very rich history in World Cups. Obviously England have been probably the front-runners in world cricket over the last four years. We have played each other a lot over the last couple of years, so it will be whoever holds their nerves,” said Finch.

First Published: Jul 11, 2019 11:05 IST