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England will be battling 20 years of misery

At the biggest stage, the oldest rivals in World Cricket fight it out one more time, writes Atul Sondhi.

india Updated: Apr 07, 2007 20:25 IST

Nearly twenty years ago, one Mike Gatting played a reverse sweep, which changed the ODI cricketing history between England and Australia.

It was the winter of 1987, and that misguided shot eventually led to Australia winning the final of the Reliance World Cup and wresting all the future initiatives from England.

Till the time that shot was made, England were enjoying a slight edge in ODI encounters against Australia. The battles were invariably intense, and close.

England vs Australia ((Before and After the World Cup 1987)
Before Reliance Cup 1987
Since Reliance Cup 1987

So one false stroke in a critical match, just like Herschelle Gibbs' dropped catch or Javed Miandad's last ball six in the Australasia Cup, changed the history of the battle between the two sides.

England who were enjoying a win per cent of 54 against Australia till then, suddenly saw their success rate crashing down to 29 per cent post Reliance Cup (Including the Title clash).

Worsening situation in 2000s

In fact, the situation has become even worse in 2000s. Before an important pre-World Cup surge, which saw England winning the CB series against Australia, England had won just 3 out of 19 matches against them with 14 going to the Aussie (there was one tie and one no result).

The situation has slightly improved after three matches for each side in CB series. However, still England are winning only one out of four matches against Australia in 2000s (the tally stands at Australia 17, England 6) and the odds will be heavily in favour of Australia when they take on England on Sunday.

Australian coach John Buchanan, however is not taking England lightly. A shrewd observer, he believes that England have a very long batting order with Ian Bell as key figure. He is especially wary of Bell's performance alongside Pietersen as ''the two have put up some good partnerships together''.

John Buchanan has reasons not to take England lightly. The history of the World Cup encounters between the two sides have seen some thrilling matches, with the favourites not always winning.

Headingly Showdown

The very first World Cup encounter between the two sides in the semifinal at Headingly in 1975 was an extremely absorbing one. Hosts England, expected to give a tough fight to a star-studded Australian side, saw an astonishing collapse after they were put in first.

English batsmen were utterly clueless against left arm paceman Gary Gilmour, and they lost their first seven wickets for only 37 runs on board. Last three wickets managed to take them to 93 but that was never going to be enough. It was one of the worst collapses in England's ODI history, with just two of their batsmen managing to get into double figures.

However, more surprises were to follow. England pacers - Geoff Arnold, John Snow and Chris Old - matched fire-by-fire reducing Australia to 39 for six. Just when it looked that England might pull off an astonishing victory, Gary Gilmour, the bowling hero with six for 14 in England's innings, came up with a tremendous show of batsmanship, scoring run-a-ball 28. Australia won by 4 wickets, but only after some heart-stopping moments.

English Revenge at Lord's

Four year's later it was England's turn at Lords. It was a group match, but vital for both the teams who had to reckon with Pakistan, another strong side, later in the tournament.

This time England won the toss and put Australia into bat. The start was solid -- a half-century partnership between Andrew Hilditch and Rick Darling. But once both had fallen before Australia reached 100, a collapse followed. In fact, the 1975 finalist lost their last four wickets for only nine runs to finish at 159 all out.

Facing such small target, England had the worst possible start losing their first two wickets for only five runs on board. But captain cool Mike Brearley and dependable Gooch took care of any further inroads with a 108-run partnership. England went on to win the match by six wickets. Australia faced further humiliation as they lost to Pakistan as well, failing to make it to the semis.

Avenging 1987

After a narrow 7-run loss in the Reliance Cup final, England's miserable run of ODI defeats against Australia started. But a fine run in 1992 edition in Australia did put them in a reasonable position to take on the defending champion in a round-robin match. For Australia it was a critical match as they had already lost to New Zealand and South Africa, while winning by just one run against India.

Opting to bat first at Sydney, Australia were soon struggling at 35 for two. The hosts briefly looked like recovering with at 71-run partnership between Tom Moody and Dean Jones, but lost their last 6 wickets for just 26 runs to be all out for 171.

If Australia had though that home advantage might create in some problems for the English, they were in for a surprise. A solid 100-run partnership between Ian Botham and Graham Gooch killed any victory hopes Australia had harboured. England won the match and went on to reach the final while Australia, following a string of losses, went on to lose at the group stage. But it was the last time they had fared so disastrously at the World Cup. In later Cups, they went on the reach three consecutive finals winning two of them.

Classic Tussle of Port Elizabeth

After losing to India in the 2003 World Cup, England badly needed a win to qualify for the next stage but at 87-5, their chances looked doomed. Then followed a tremendous 90-run partnership between future captain Andrew Flintoff and Alec Stewart. England eventually reached 204. A face saving, but certainly not a winning score.

But England almost pulled off the impossible. Especially against a batting lineup which boasted of Gilchrist, Hayden, Ponting and Martyn as top four players, followed by the likes of Lehmann and Bevan. But an inspirational spell by Caddick saw the first four batsmen gone for just 48 on board and at one stage, Australia looked like heading for defeat with 8 wickets down for 135, and 70 still to get.

However, a composed 74 from reliable Bevan and run-a-ball 36 from Andy Bichel saved Australia the blushes. England were ejected out of the Super-Six.

Again, on April 8, England will have their backs to the wall like four years ago. Already having lost to Sri Lanka and New Zealand, a defeat here will almost put them into the plane back home. They will be hoping that their fighting spirit, so much evident in the previous World Cup encounters against Australia, will once again come to the fore as they go in for the do-or-die battle.

But key to their chances will be tackling Ponting (1024 runs against England at an average of 45) and Gilchrist (1060 runs against England at an average of 33). Hayden, with 674 runs at an average of 31, will be another top player England should be wary of.

It is how England tackle these top three could go a long way towards deciding their fortunes. The real test of their grit will come now.

First Published: Apr 07, 2007 20:16 IST