Australia vs England: Nice guys who want to finish firsthttps://indianexpress.com/article/sports/cricket-world-cup/world-cup-2019-nice-guys-who-want-to-finish-first-australia-vs-england-semifinal-5823140/

Australia vs England: Nice guys who want to finish first

Ahead of the blockbuster semifinal between the Ashes rivals, The Indian Express zooms in on the men from Down Under — a team that may not have forgotten how to win, but whose personnel might have dropped their boorishness for good.

 Australia vs England, Aus vs Eng, world cup semifinal, Nathan Lyon, Mitchell Starc, world cup news, cricket news, world cup match, world cup highlights
Nathan Lyon has coined this acronym — Fastest Left-Armer of All-Time — for Mitchell Starc, the highest wicket-taker in the ongoing World Cup. (AP)

Adonis’s agony

There is something about Nathan Lyon, the GOAT, and nicknames. He slapped FLOAT on Mitchell Starc before, and now seemingly bored of acronyms, has coined a moniker for Marcus Stoinis for his rippling Greek-god like physique. The Greatest Off-spinner of All Time has named him after a Greek god himself. Adonis, the Greek god of beauty envied for his musculature and courted by goddesses Venus and Aphrodite in the myths. Apparently, Stoinis is a fitness nerd. From swimming for a couple of hours in the morning to lifting heavy weights in the gym for another two. The evening loyalties are split between sprints and tennis. In fact, tennis was his first love, before he and his best friend (Formula One racer) Daniel Ricciardo were shunted out of a tennis academy because they always fought with each other. His book shelf is stacked with fitness literature. Apparently, the racer seeks fitness tips from the cricketer and plays tennis with him whenever both are in town.

But his physique is a matter of much envy in the team, not least coach Justin Langer, who comes from the same locality in Perth as Stoinis and played in the same club, and has taken up a challenge to get fitter than him. Originally, Shane Warne had christened him, “The Incredible Hulk.”

On one instance, he was literally embarrassed when commentator Mark Howard began raving about his physique during an interview. “Look at the physique on this man, Marcus Stoinis. Look at the arms and the triceps on this man. Stoiny, you’re looking good today. Have a look at those (muscles). The boys, they know he is the body in the team.” However, Langer and Co are fretting over his fitness for the semifinal against England. Stoinis had picked a side strain while throwing in a ball from the deep in the South Africa game.

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“He’s a strong bloke and should pick himself up from the injury. He’s such a vital member for our balance,” Langer had said on Monday. So feels Peter Handscomb, who’s joined the team for the injured Shaun Marsh. “If there’s anyone that can pull through this, it’s the big fella. I think his mental strength to shut off pain or outside noise and really just zone in on the moment is really impressive and I think that’s why he has gone so far and done so well with his cricket.” The real Adonis’s description in the epics should reassure his worried teammates. The dying and rising God.

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Lyon of the jungle

Nathan Lyon is not considered one of the more abrasive characters in the Australian set-up. That goofy grin pasted on his face makes the GOAT an adorable character and somewhat of a cult hero in his home country. But there is a wicked side that sees him take potshots at the opposition, declare that Australia could “end the careers” of some England players. GOAT had gloated about Mitchell Johnson scaring some English batsmen and the team wanting to get England captain Joe Root dropped.

The comments raised eyebrows because Lyon was (wrongly) thought to be above the Australian strategy of exploiting any real or perceived weakness in the opposition. Sandpapergate prompted Australia to present a much gentler image of themselves. But when the stakes are raised and a spot in the World Cup final is up for grabs, old habits revisit. So, when the semi-final line-up was finalised, Lyon wasted little time in reminding the hosts that the onus was on England, after a mid-tournament wobble, and the Aussies, despite being defending champions, had a wretched run in the 50-over format till about three months ago.

“They (England) are full of world-class players and they’ve been the number one team for a couple of years now,” Lyon said. “They should be going into this World Cup as favourites. “It’s all on them. It’s their World Cup to lose, if you ask me. We’ve got nothing to lose, we’ve only got stuff to gain. That’s the exciting thing,” the off-spinner turned the heat on England. “They are the No.1 team in the world … we are third, so we are still underdogs.”

“We are going to have fun, we are going to do with a smile on our face.” It remains to be seen who will be left smiling after the dust settles at Edgbaston.

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Captain Humble

With Aaron Finch, Australia took a break from the trend of picking a hardy personality to captain the team. Finch doesn’t have the in-your-face mentality that categorised the likes of Steve Waugh and Ricky Ponting. He’s not the type to tell an English opponent – or any opponent for that matter – to be prepared for a broken arm. And he certainly wasn’t a part of the infamous ‘leadership group’ that employed the services of a piece of sandpaper that gave Australian cricket its darkest hour.

What he is, is a hard-working farm boy who doesn’t like to meddle in mind games. A part of the reason for that is his upbringing. The man from a small farming hamlet on the outskirts of Colac in western Victoria is, as cricket.com.au described, “perhaps the most blue-collar of the regular men’s team’s captains appointed by Australia in the past generation.”

In contrast, the story continues, “Steve Waugh (Bankstown in Sydney), Ricky Ponting (Mowbray in Launceston), Michael Clarke (Liverpool, in Sydney’s west) and Steve Smith (Menai, of the southern Sutherland shire of Sydney) were all products of hard-nosed suburban competitions.” The reasons for appointing Finch captain are simple. He may not be the sledging-type, but he is a qualified leader who has stepped up at a time when Australia is looking to tone down the heat after the ball-tampering fiasco.

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Warner’s bat talks

In their first international face-off since the Sandpapergate in Cape Town last year, David Warner and Kagiso Rabada let their cricket exploits do the talking. The Guardian recalled, “In that series the pair were after each other throughout. When Warner had a scuffle with South African wicketkeeper Quinton de Kock in a stairwell at the Durban ground, the leaked security footage showed Rabada remaining on the landing after Warner had been hustled away, glaring in his departing direction with the kind of stare that could have burned through stone.” Things got attritional at Old Trafford though it stayed a fair contest between bat and ball, with verbals kept in abeyance. It started with confusion as Warner should have been run out in the first over, only for the ball to be returned to the wrong end. The fielder? Rabada. Rabada would then bowl at Warner – beat him with a beauty past the outside edge, followed by two short-pitched brutes.

“In the subsequent over it was counter-punch time, with Warner lofting over cover with the fielding restrictions in play. Four runs. Warner blocked the next, then was fried by a ball that screamed through and nearly nicked him off again, followed by a bouncer that had him leaping. Warner replied in the next over with a pull for six…It was compelling, end-to-end stuff,” the report mentioned.

Not many moons ago, Cricket Australia chairman Earl Eddings had this to say about the improved behaviour of the Australian cricketers following a scathing culture review: “With a stronger focus on values and behaviour, this past season saw a 74 per cent decrease in code of conduct charges from the national teams through to our national championships for country and indigenous teams.” A mellow David Warner is a case in point.

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Smith gets a promotion

Steve Smith has flown under the radar at this World Cup. He has made runs — 294 at 32.66 with three fifties but it pales in comparison to openers Aaron Finch (507) and David Warner (638). Smith has fallen short of the high standards he has set for himself, but former England opener Michael Atherton believes the problem is with Smith’s batting position rather than anything to do with his technique or being mentally down because of the constant booing. Atherton would like to see Smith to bat at No.3, a position Usman Khawaja vacates after 7 innings and a hamstring injury, Atherton writes for Times London.

“Australia are wasting one of their key assets by batting him at No.4 (for the most part) instead of three, the position from where his contemporaries (Williamson, Kohli and Root) like to set the scene. Opening or No 3 are the best positions to bat in fifty-over (or any one-day cricket), given the time given to set the agenda and the added advantages of field restrictions, good pitches and a white Kookaburra ball that rarely swings… In nine outings, Smith has batted at No 4 six times (although he was effectively No 3 on Saturday because of Usman Khawaja’s injury), once at No 6 and only twice at No 3, because Khawaja has to bat high in the order and Smith is a little more adaptable and a better player of spin than some.”

Smith is not a power-hitter, Atheron writes, adding, “Rather as a player of touch and class and it would be to his benefit if he was given maximum time to show it. Khawaja’s injury may be a blessing in disguise for Australia.”

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‘Really nice guy’

The sight of the cricket ball crashing into a helmet is one that Australians have learnt to dread. It all started five years ago, when Phil Hughes was struck on the neck and tragically lost his life. David Warner, the most hardened of Aussie blokes, was there at the SCG when Hughes fell.

So when Warner played a strong straight drive that struck a hired net bowler on the head during a practice session, the hard-hitting opener melted. “He screamed when he hit it because he knew I was coming into line,” said Jaykishan Plaha, the net bowler who Warner inadvertently hit, to BBC. “He was quite shocked. In the moment, it was tense, but I could see he was really upset.”

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The local lad, who is of Indian descent, claimed the entire Aussie squad used to check on him when he was in hospital for three days, but Warner went further. Ahead of Australia’s match against Sri Lanka, Warner gave Plaha a signed shirt and spent time with him the following morning. “He’s a really nice guy, a family man. He’s really bubbly and positive. He went out of his way to see me. He (also) spoke to my mum and apologised to her. My mum gave him blessings,” Plaha added.