Fighting fire with fire is an art, an art that only rare possess. The 2015 World Cup winning team Australia are eliminated from the ongoing ICC Champions Trophy after a tragic defeat against England in a virtual quarter-final at Edgbaston on Saturday. England returned from a precarious situation in the run-chase and not just negotiated the pumped Australian bowling but also attacked. How often do we see a team chasing a challenging total after losing key wickets against the new ball? Well, it has happened twice in two days in the ongoing coveted tournament.
At first, Bangladesh’s emphatic fightback, which was led by Shakib Al Hasan and Mahmudullah, shattered New Zealand’s hopes of staying alive in the tournament and then England eliminated the formidable Australian side with a scintillating victory. Australia were asked to bat first, and their batting did reasonably well to be comfortably placed at 161 for the loss of two wickets inside 28 overs. But a crippling collapse saw them add only 116 runs from there on and post a modest total of 277. Mark Wood and Adil Rashid were outstanding with the ball and inflicted immense damage on the dominant Australian batting line-up.
Defending 277 against the star-studded batting of England was never going to be an easy task for Australia and demanded early wickets. Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazlewood are by far the best new ball pair in the tournament. They are unique in their own style and can rip through the best of the batting line-ups. The duo lived up to the expectations and set the tone with three quick wickets inside six overs. Jason Roy was trapped leg before with a stunner by Starc while Alex Hales had no answer to Hazlewood’s immaculate line and length. Hales edged one straight to the wicket-keeper as England lost both the openers in first two overs.
Despite losing two wickets in first two overs, England didn’t look in any kind of trouble as they had some insane depth in their batting. Joe Root looked good but once again Hazlewood struck with a beauty and scalped the prize wicket of the elegant right-hander. Joe Root is easily the best batsman in the English line-up, his early fall is always a huge advantage for the opponent. Eoin Morgan was already out in the middle and in came Ben Stokes in the sixth over, which was certainly too early for him. England were 35 for 3 when Stokes took guard. Who knows what the scorecard would have looked like had Matthew Wade hold on to a catch of Eoin Morgan behind the stumps? It was a difficult chance, but such chances have to be grabbed when a team is defending a total of 277.
After the end of sixth over, in came the rain. Starc and Hazlewood were looking unstoppable but this unwanted break probably put brakes on the gained momentum. England got some extra time to reassess their strategy in order to counter-attack the Australian bowlers. After some time, the play resumed. There were no deductions in overs and English batsmen were out with an intent. Morgan smashed the next two deliveries from Starc for a boundary and was in no mood to let the opponent capitalise.
England needed to break the shackles and were in hunt of some attacking cricket to do so. Morgan and Stokes stood up and played with a positive intent, they fought fire with fire and kept the scoreboard ticking. They pounced on the loose deliveries and cautiously played out the good ones. By the end of 15th over, England were well ahead of their required run-rate at 104 for 3. Stokes remained unaffected by the pressure and played his natural game sensibly. Despite losing three crucial wickets, which included Joe Root, England never looked in any kind of pressure due to the belligerence Stokes and Morgan demonstrated. At the end of 15th over, England still needed 174 more runs to win and had a long way to go. But the way Stokes and Morgan dealt with the pressure was simply outstanding and laudable.
The duo stitched a match-winning stand of 159 runs between them and laid a solid foundation for another emphatic win. It was almost like Australia were waiting for England to make a mistake, such cleanly the two attacked. And then there was a half chance, Stokes failed to read a slower one from Starc and chipped the ball in the air, which fell short of Adam Zampa. But a horrible mix-up between the two saw Eoin Morgan being run-out. Australia were good enough to pounce on the opportunity provided and break the crucial partnership.
Morgan was astute in his approach and it seemed like he played to a plan. In comparison, Hazlewood is slightly slower than Starc and Pat Cummins when it comes to pace. Morgan smashed three sixes to Hazlewood and all of them came against short deliveries whereas he curbed his instincts and looked to defend most of the deliveries from Starc and Cummins, which speaks about his shrewdness. Morgan deserved a century but was unfortunate to not get one.
Stokes went on to score his third One-Day International (ODI) ton and his second in last three innings.His unbeaten 102 off 109 deliveries is also his finest ODI performance, which came at a much-needed time. Stokes has been in magnificent form in the recent times and this was a testament to it. He is an aggressive batsman, a wily bowler and a livewire on the field – a complete package in contemporary cricket. England were 40 runs ahead of the par score (D/L method) when rains once again played the spoilsport. England won the game by 40 runs and ended Australia’s hopes of making it to the semi-final.
England once again showed why they were tipped as favourites going into the tournament and will be the team to beat henceforth. Barring England, no teams will be having all three wins under their belt from the league stages. England is the only team to have won all the three games and chisel their path into the semi-final and a lot of credit for their third win goes to Morgan and Stokes.