Birmingham: England seem primed to win their maiden title but it will take a special effort to upstage arch-rivals and record five-time champions Australia in the second World Cup semifinal here on Thursday. England have turned it around following their first-round exit in the 2015 edition and have become a formidable one-day side. Considering the firepower the hosts possess, many current and former players have said it is England's World Cup to lose, a trophy they have not been able to lift despite making the final in 1979, 1987 and 1992. And between them and a fourth shot at the title, stand familiar foes Australia who have been so consistent in the mega event that they are yet to lose a semifinal, having won six and one being a dramatic tie against South Africa in the 1999 edition.
Not many would have put their money on Australia as recent as four months ago but Aaron Finch and his team have made a phenomenal comeback that began with a rare series win in India in March. Though they still cannot be bracketed among the 'invincible' Australian teams of the past, trust them to rise to the occasion when the stakes are high.
They seem to be peaking at the right time and look a relaxed bunch, something that was very much evident when the entire squad walked barefoot around the outfield at Edgbaston here on Monday. "If you go back 12 months ago there wasn't too much to be relaxed and chilled about in Australian cricket, was there?. And that's the truth," said Australia coach Justin Langer ahead of the game.
"We went through a major crisis in our cricket. It didn't just affect our cricket, it affected our country, so there wasn't too much to be relaxed about. We've had to work hard on being more humble in what we do and being focussed on playing good cricket but also being good people as well. "And I know there will be some English people who will laugh about that but its actually true. We had to work hard on that and that's a good bunch of players," said the former opener," he said referring to the period which saw senior players David Warner and Steve Smith being handed out one-year bans for ball-tampering. England may have won 10 out of their last 12 meetings against Australia but they know well that the piece of statistic counts for little heading into the semifinal, especially after the Eoin Morgan-led side's 64-loss to them in the league stage.
But England are back to their best since that loss to Australia as they beat India and New Zealand in their final two league games. Openers Jonny Bairstow and Jason Roy have been on fire and the team will be expecting another flying start from the destructive duo. England pacer Liam Plunkett feels his team is a title favourite for a reason and fancies beating Australia who suffered an unexpected defeat against South Africa in their final league fixture. "We are a different sort of animal compared to our last teams. We have played well for the past four years, we're ranked number one. We feel on our day we can beat anyone in the world," he said.
The pace attack has provided the x-factor to both teams, adding to excitement of the contest. While England don't have injury issues, Australia coach Langer has already confirmed Peter Handscomb will replace an injured Usman Khawaja in the playing eleven. All-rounder Marcus Stoinis has recovered from a side strain he sustained against South Africa.
Aaron Finch (captain), Jason Behrendorff, Alex Carey (wk), Nathan Coulter-Nile, Pat Cummins, Peter Handscomb, Usman Khawaja, Nathan Lyon, Glenn Maxwell, Kane Richardson, Steve Smith, Mitchell Starc, Marcus Stoinis, David Warner, Adam Zampa (Standby players: Matthew Wade, Mitchell Marsh)
Eoin Morgan (captain), Moeen Ali, Jofra Archer, Jonny Bairstow, Jos Buttler (wk), Tom Curran, Liam Dawson, Liam Plunkett, Adil Rashid, Joe Root, Jason Roy, Ben Stokes, James Vince, Chris Woakes, Mark Wood.
David Warner (638 runs, three centuries, HS 166)
Mitchell Starc (24 wickets @ 16.61, Best 5-26)
Joe Root (500 runs, two centuries, HS 107
Jofra Archer (17 wickets @ 22.76, Best 3-27
How crucial is the toss?
Both the teams will want to bat first and put some runs on the board. Toss is likely to play a crucial role in the final outcome of the game.
If England bat first
Openers have been in sublime form in the last two games. If they can provide a good start, England have the firepower in the middle order to go past 300. Though Eoin Morgan scored a brilliant hundred in the tournament, his form has been patchy.
If Australia bat first
A lot depends on the opening duo of Warner and Finch. If they can get off to a good start, 300+ is on the cards. If the openers fall cheaply, Australia might have to contend with a score of around 260 to 270.
Who will win the match?
Even though Australia has been a better side in the tournament, England seems to have gained momentum at the right time and thus they might emerge victorious in this mouth-watering contest.
- Press Trust of India