The first semi-final in the ICC Cricket World Cup between New Zealand and India broke the heart of every Indian cricket lover. The second one between England and Australia played at Edgbaston in Birmingham was a major attraction for many cricket fans, too. Not surprising, since the match was a battle between two historically famous rivals competing for a spot in the finals of the present edition of the World Cup.
The end result, an English win by eight wickets, was achieved with consummate ease. Chasing Australia’s below-par score of 223, England’s batsmen didn’t look in any kind of trouble. Jason Roy (65-ball 85) and Jonny Bairstow (43-ball 34) shared a formidable opening partnership of 124. Roy was caught behind off Pat Cummins when he looked set for a century. Replays suggested that the bat hadn’t touched the ball, but England couldn’t contest the decision since they had no review left.
The unfortunate dismissal notwithstanding, what was noteworthy was the confident manner in which England pursued the target. Roy was ruthless and dominant, hitting five sixes and nine boundaries during his stay at the wicket. Joe Root (44-ball 49) and skipper Eoin Morgan (38-ball 41) guided the team past the finishing line with 107 balls to spare. It was that easy.
Australian bowling lacked penetration for the most part. Steve Smith was butchered by Roy in his solitary expensive over that went for 21 runs. Mitchell Starc (1/70 off 8.4 overs) lacked sting, and Nathan Lyon (0/49 off 5) wasn’t impressive either. Pat Cummins (1/34 off 7) and Jason Behrendorff (0/34 off 8) looked rather ordinary as England sped past the target without problems.
Electing to bat after winning the toss earlier, Australia put up a less-than-modest total. The decision to bat first appeared to be a good one at the outset, but the team suffered its first setback when a Jofra Archer in-swinger struck skipper Aaron Finch on the front pad. Declared lbw, the batsman retreated to the pavilion with a golden duck next to his name. The potentially explosive David Warner (11-ball 9) followed Finch not much later, caught at second slip by Bairstow off a Chris Woakes delivery.
When Peter Handscomb (12-ball 4) was cleaned up by Woakes with a delivery that went through his defences, the Australian top-order collapse with the score reading 14/3 brought back memories of the Indian outing with the bat one day earlier.
But the Kangaroos weren’t going to lose their fourth wicket in a hurry. A sharp Archer bouncer hit Alex Carey (70-ball 46) on his chin and took the helmet with it. Unruffled, Carey went on to play an important knock and share a 103-run fourth-wicket partnership with Steve Smith (119-ball 85), who scored his fourth fifty of this World Cup.
Carey’s dismissal was followed by the exit of Marcus Stoinis, who failed to get his first run. The next man to go was Glenn Maxwell (23-ball 22), whose getting out after promising starts must be one of the most embarrassing sights of Australian cricket.
Smith’s 51-run eighth-wicket partnership with Mitchell Starc (36-ball 29) took Australia past the 200-run mark. Australia were eventually bowled out with one over left. That not only meant six unused deliveries but also that Australia didn’t have much to play with against a formidable batting line-up.
Woakes (3/20 off 8 overs) was brilliant, tormenting the batsmen with his accuracy and speed. Archer (2/32), equally magnificent, played a significant role in putting Australia under considerable pressure. Mark Wood (1/45 off 9) didn’t make much impact, and neither did Liam Plunkett (0/44 off 8). Although slightly expensive, Adil Rashid (1/54), captured three wickets, including that of the courageous Carey.
England’s emphatic victory suggests that they must be seen as favourites to lift the trophy. That said, the final against New Zealand promises to be thrilling – simply because it is the last and the biggest match of the tournament.