In front of a raucously partisan crowd in Edgbaston, England ensured that the 2019 World Cup will see first-time champions crowned with a dominant eight-wicket defeat of five-time winners Australia in the second semifinal yesterday.
After a superb bowling performance that found every Australian batsman bar Steve Smith wanting, England chased a sub-par 223 with little fuss. Skipper Eoin Morgan hit Jason Behrendorff over mid on to secure the win with 17.5 overs to spare, setting off fireworks and uproarious applause.
England have never won a World Cup despite playing three previous finals, and will face New Zealand -- who have also never won the mega event and have reached their second successive title decider -- in the final at Lord’s on July 14.
England’s chase was built around an explosive opening stand between Jonny Bairstow and Jason Roy that realised 124 runs in just 17.2 overs and negated any sting in Australia’s attack. Roy was second to depart in the 20th over with the score on 147, but Morgan (45 off 39) and Joe Root (49 off 46) maintained England’s dominance with an unbroken 79-run stand.
It was Roy who dominated the match-shaping opening partnership by scoring 85 off 65 balls. Those runs were worth their weight in gold because, as evidenced in India’s defeat to New Zealand in the first semifinal the day before, a World Cup knockout carries pressure of its own and a slow start or early wickets would only have let Australia back into the contest.
Roy started his carnage with two cover-driven boundaries in the fourth over off Mitchell Starc, who was later to become the highest wicket-taker in a single edition of the World Cup by trapping Bairstow in front for his 27th wicket of the edition. It was otherwise not a happy outing for Starc as he bore the brunt of Roy’s onslaught, leaking 70 runs from nine overs. Roy brought up his 50 off his 50th delivery in the 15th over, after which England were on 95 without loss. If Australia were thinking that a fightback was still a possibility, the next over would have crushed that hope. Aaron Finch brought on the part-time leg-spin of Smith, and Roy launched him for three successive sixes, with the last one bouncing off the roof of the five-story tall media stand behind the sightscreen. Bairstow departed two overs later and Roy himself was denied a century when umpire Kumar Dharmasena adjudged him caught-behind off a Pat Cummins bouncer when replays showed that the ball was nowhere near his gloves as he played and missed the pull. Roy protested, but England did not have a review as Bairstow had used up their lone unsuccessful one when challenging a pretty plumb leg-before decision -- perhaps England’s lone mistake in an otherwise perfect performance.
Earlier, Australia had come into the semifinal with a world of confidence, having beaten England in their league game on June 25 and boasting an all-win record in six previous World Cup semifinals. England, whose defeat at Lord’s against the old enemy formed part of a two-game dip that threatened their semifinal chances, had rallied with victories in their last two league games and yesterday, burst Australia’s bubble inside the first seven overs after losing the toss by taking three wickets with just 14 on the board.
Skipper Aaron Finch departed for a golden duck in the first ball of the second over, playing around an inswinger from the fiery Jofra Archer to be trapped plumb in front, although he wasted their single unsuccessful review. Smith had then entered as the crowd booed loudly.
In the next over, Chris Woakes accounted for David Warner -- Australia’s highest scorer in the World Cup with 636 runs leading into the match -- with a ball that reared from short of a good length and caught the edge of a hopping Warner’s bat on way to second slip.
The pitch was offering early-morning movement with a good helping of pace, and allied with accurate and incisive bowling from Archer and Woakes, Australia found the going tough and limped to 14 in the sixth over. That was when Woakes got one to nip sharply back off the seam and bowl Pete Handscomb.
Then followed the only partnership of note between Smith and Alex Carey as the duo put on 103 for the fourth wicket. Australia reached 27 for three after the first 10 overs and while Carey in particular tried to cut loose, excellent ground fielding from England ensured that Australia were kept on a tight leash. Smith took 34 balls to score his first seven runs, but started making up for lost time with a pulled boundary off Ben Stokes in the 16th over. He was soon on 33 off 50 balls and with the introduction of leg-spinner Adil Rashid, the run rate picked up as Australia’s recovery seemed underway with the score on 103 for three after 25 overs. However, in the 28th over, Carey let the advantage slip by skipping down to Rashid and holing out at deep midwicket. Marcus Stoinis lasted just a ball before he was trapped in front by a perfectly pitched googly. In between, Smith brought up his half-century to another chorus of boos.
Glenn Maxwell then raised hopes of a second recovery when he hit Rashid for a six over long on in the 32nd over. But that is also when the new pace challenge started for Australia in the form of the returning Archer. The right-arm pacer mixed 140kph-plus deliveries with 120kph slower balls and Maxwell was undone by the latter, checking a drive and being caught at cover for 22.
Pat Cummins did not last long, falling victim to another Rashid googly that he edged to slip to leave the score on 166 for seven. Mitchell Starc stayed with Smith during a 51-run eighth-wicket stand that carried the score to 217 for seven, but just when it looked like Australia may make a match of it with a score nearing 250, Smith was run out brilliantly by wicketkeeper Jos Buttler, whose direct hit at the non-striker’s end in the 48th over found Smith just short of his stumps, forcing the brave innings to be cut short on 119-ball 85. Starc was caught behind for 29 off the next ball bowled by Woakes. Mark Wood then bowled an inch-perfect yorker to bowl Behrendorff in the next over to bowl Australia out for a sub-par 223 with an over to spare.