LONDON – What might help England as they officially enter the knockout stage of the World Cup against Australia today is that they have effectively been playing knockout cricket for the past fortnight.
The group-stage defeat by Aaron Finch’s team at Lord’s will have little bearing on what happens at Edgbaston because the players are dealing with different pressures, a different pitch and changes in personnel. So there shouldn’t be any mental scarring.
What England should carry forward, though, are the lessons learned from it, because in neither innings did they start well.
They bowled first which was the right thing to do with cloudy skies and a green pitch but bowled too short - with Jofra Archer and Mark Wood the main culprits - and when they batted they didn’t overcome the main threat in left-armers Mitchell Starc and Jason Behrendorff swinging the ball back into their pads.
With conditions potentially humid in Birmingham it might swing again, but until the day you just don’t know, so England mustn’t over-adjust on what they have seen previously. They must pay attention to reading the conditions in the present.
Just because the pace bowlers were a bit short of a length for Lord’s, you don’t want them to be offering full-length drive balls at Edgbaston when it’s not doing anything. You must play the pitch and situation and that’s something England have generally been very good at, particularly in the must-win matches against India and New Zealand.
Against India at Edgbaston, they worked out the best length for a combination of that pitch and the opposition batsmen. They banged away on a length, hit the splice of the bat, Chris Woakes started with three maidens and the pressure was on India when they exited the powerplay at 28 for one.
The attack will have to be equally good today and when England bat they will have to expect that both the left-armers will swing the ball back in. If it doesn’t swing, they have to be wary of the ball that just goes on because, at that angle, nicking off becomes a threat. Assess conditions, communicate and appreciate that the balance of Australia’s bowling unit improved from the moment these teams met in the group stage.
Previously, if you saw off Starc and Pat Cummins, Australia’s attack dropped off a cliff but with the additions of Behrendorff and Nathan Lyon, from that fixture onwards they’ve carried a much greater threat.
That is not to say Australia are without challenges of their own.
If there is no lateral movement available with the new ball, what is their plan B? And they have to make a change in the batting due to Usman Khawaja’s injury. It will not be easy for Peter Handscomb to come into his first game of the competition cold.
In a semi-final, it’s important players remain true to themselves - so if Jonny Bairstow and Jason Roy see the ball, and want to hit it, then that’s what they’ve got to do — but they must also retain flexibility.
England have won games by getting off to flying starts, and for all the talk of meetings, nothing calms a dressing-room like a player like Roy returning from injury and dictating the tempo to opponents, but they also must be smart.
You can’t be over-cautious because it’s a big match but you can’t go the other extreme and say ‘that’s the way we play’.
You have to assess the skills and threat of the opposition.
Yes, it’s a fine line but get it absolutely spot on and they can beat Australia.
Australia are a very good side, well led by Finch and well prepared by Justin Langer and Ricky Ponting. They bear little resemblance to the team defeated 5-0 here last year. They’re a lot tougher, a lot more skilled group.
Australia have always produced very hard cricketers who handle pressure situations. England last beat them in a World Cup 27 years ago. That statistic needs putting to bed.Daily Mail