Advance Australia Fair. That’s their national anthem and that’s what they did. Advanced fair and square. Now, their fans can have real hopes about winning the World Cup. They were that good against England, first battling through conditions loaded against them to get 285 (though they looked good to get 320 at one stage) and then imperiously stubbed out any threatening English resistance (First Jos Butler, then Ben Stokes).
Mitchell Starc, take a bow. Every time a batsman has looked like waging a fight — not just in this game but throughout the tournament — he has downed them with a sucker punch. Jason Holder, Wahab Riaz, Kusal Perera, Tamim Iqbal — and now Ben Stokes can all wonder about if-only-no-Starc scenarios.
It had rained from 3.30 am to 6. The pavements were wet, the coffee shops outside train stations were packed. The sentries outside St John’s Wood, the train station closest to Lord’s, enquired whether you had an umbrella and said they hoped Australia would be made to bat first.
They did. But though the ball fizzed around, teasing the bat-edges, Aaron Finch and David Warner battled on bravely, skilfully, and slowly turned the tide once the sun peeped out. Who could have foretold a 123-run partnership in these conditions, heavily loaded in the bowlers’ favour? But the Aussie openers achieved it, and half the game was won then and there.
England were feeling the burn on a midsummer’s day. Finch was on a hundred, the score read 185 for 2, it was the 36th over and 350 loomed large. Someone had to put the fire out and Jofra Archer stepped up with a good short delivery that kicked up more than Finch anticipated, was more accurate than Finch expected, and the attempted pull shot didn’t get him out of jail. Top edge and gone, and England had doused the raging fire. For the time being.
Just when England thought they had done the job, had pulled Australia back by reducing them to 259 for 7, Alex Carey, the wicketkeeper-batsman, hit them hard with a late assault that escalated the pressure. And probably allowed Australia to continue attacking in the chase.
Carey has had an interesting World Cup so far; runs at most opportunities he got, and though he has dropped the odd chance now and then, he has looked pretty secure. His shot selection has been wise; he doesn’t slog or heave, but works the angles perfectly, slicing and driving his way through.
If England had to have any chance, they needed a good start. The new ball was bound to jag around and Australia had two lefties who could bend the ball back into them. Wickets in hand was more important than runs but England had a horror start, losing three top-order batsmen in James Vince, Joe Root, and Eoin Morgan.
Jason Behrendorff, the man who replaced Nathan Coulter-Nile, has the ability to curve it back into right-handers. Vince would have known it but was served an absolute peach — full and swinging in as he fell over, losing his balance. Joe Root is a world-class batsman but was made to look like a novice by Starc. Full, curving, and fatal. At high pace, it curled in and Root stumbled out, pushing his bat way outside the line, stumped by the extent of deviation and speed. He was their main Test batsman, the one who had the technique to see through the new ball and with his fall, the English door was ajar and Australia stormed in.
Eoin Morgan looked iffy, jumping to the leg side, anticipating bouncers from Starc. He didn’t exude any confidence that he would last a while. He hopped away at a short-of-length delivery and Starc made him wait for the bouncer. Eventually it came, and Morgan’s attempted feeble pull was swallowed at fine-leg.
Stokes and Jos Buttler took it upon themselves to try and scale the mountain. Stokes’s defensive technique is pretty tight as he has shown in Tests and he went about settling in. A tap here, a push there, rotating the strike. Buttler doesn’t like to do such finesse — he can be refreshingly positive even against raging fire. He started walking down the track to throw the seamers off their nagging lengths and it seemed to work. The runs started to flow and they added 73 runs to push the total to 124 when Stoinis pitched in with his contribution of the day. It wasn’t a great delivery, the usual Stoinis stuff, on a length, fairly straight and Buttler, who had taken a step or two forward, swung it to the leg side. When it connected, it made one wonder whether it would be a four or a six, but Usman Khawaja intervened at the square-leg boundary to take a good running catch under pressure.
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Stokes carried on, raising English hopes. It was time for high tea and scones and pies would have come out, but they would have feared Starc’s presence. Stokes had done all he could despite his body threatening to give away. His calf muscles were cramping and he had even taken a massage from the physio – English hopes rested on his legs, hands, and cricketing brain. He chose his bowlers well, and played his shots until Starc knocked him over with a deadly swinging yorker.
Everyone knows it’s his go-to delivery under pressure. Every batsman would be looking for it. Stokes, for sure, would have. But he was still beaten. Pacy, curly and it sneaked under the bat. It was quite a sight. Stokes trying his best to ram his bat down, shut the barn door to keep out trouble, but it kept sneaking in the air and squeezed under. The bat hit the ground, the ball hit the stumps, and English hopes were buried. England are in danger of bowing out of the tournament if they continue this way.
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