England made a chase of 277 seem like a weekend stroll down Birmingham’s Cannon Hill Park as Ben Stokes reinforced his MVP status with a bludgeoning unbeaten 102, alongside a slightly more serene 87 from captain Eoin Morgan. The pair’s 159-run fourth wicket partnership ensured Josh Hazlewood’s early burst was but a footnote in the contest as Australia were sent crashing out of Champions Trophy group stage for a second successive edition.
In some quarters around Edgbaston, this clash was billed as the preamble for the winter Ashes series. The fans certainly were up for it. England have rarely enjoyed an edge over their old rivals in white-ball cricket as they did going into the clash. Heavy favourites by virtue of a mentality overhaul, the hosts had already sealed their path to the semifinals leading into the clash. Australia, on the other hand, had grappled with inclement weather, had to pip their arch rivals to progress even as Bangladesh, buoyed by their Cardiff exploits, watched on intently from a distance.
Steve Smith’s men had one more rain break to contend with in their ill-fated sojourn. The heavens opened in the sixth over of the chase, with England 35 for 3 in pursuit of 277. By recent standards, the target was grossly sub-par but, in a welcome change, the white Kookaburra appeared to be moving around for Mitchell Starc and Hazlewood. Then, 42 minutes later, swing disappeared along with the rain, without a trace left behind. The game turned on its head.
Stokes and Morgan led a brutal counter-attack, scoring their 159 partnership runs in just 26.1 overs. Stokes shredded Australia’s attack with piercing drives, dismissive pulls and the occasional deft touch. Pat Cummins bore the brunt of this retaliation – going for 33 in his first four overs, the first of which was a maiden. In a stinging sign of just how Stokes dominated, check this: Mitchell Starc ran up and bowled a 140kmph bouncer and the Durham all-rounder simply dismissed it from his presence with a pull off such ferocity that Smith at first slip simply puffed his cheeks and exhaled.
Morgan was more measured in his assault, but no less belligerent, as he relished Australia’s decision to bowl to his body as opposed to the more popularly executed strategy outside the off-stump. Upon play resumption after the rain break, he creamed two elegant drives for fours and then smartly settled into a more anchor role. That he finished with eight fours and five sixes of his own and a strike rate of 107.41 reflected the measure of his control. When Morgan eventually fell – run out after a miscommunication – England had motored along to 194 for 4 and had daylight separating them from their opponents.
It was a humbling experience for Australia’s attack which didn’t possess the variety, or the nous, to force Stokes and Morgan to change their games. Smith even threw the ball to Travis Head before he could bring on his lead spinner – Adam Zampa – into the attack in the 18th over. By then, however, the stand had already knocked the stuffing out of Australia, ensuring that any feel-good factor from Head’s flourish with the bat and Hazlewood’s strikes was distant memory. With Jos Buttler and Moeen Ali still to come and Stokes showing no signs of slowing down, only the margin of victory remained in question.
Smith had lost the coin toss earlier in the day but got what he wished for nonetheless when Morgan opted to bowl. The final result result – a total of 277 for 9 – would have left him somewhat comfortable given that his side had oscillated between a 300+ total and a 240-odd total. Mark Wood (4 for 33) and Adil Rashid (4 for 41) grabbed eight wickets between themselves to ensure Australia didn’t put up a target too daunting for England’s batsmen.
David Warner’s horror time in the UK continued when Wood angled one across him to find his outside edge. Aaron Finch rediscovered his touch with a series of well-timed straight drives even as his captain fidgeted (more than usual) to another half-century. The pair added 96 for the second wicket before Stokes ended the stand by getting Finch to miscue a lofted shot. Henriques, who kept his place in an unchanged Australian line-up, took a while to get going and as did Glenn Maxwell, both of whom fell either side of Smith.
Rashid came on for his final spell post the 40th over and instantly accounted for Matthew Wade, Mitchell Starc and Pat Cummins in a period of play that saw Australia lose five wickets for 15. Head, who’d yearned for company through the middle over, did well to compile a breezy 71 and push the total to competitive levels.
After England lost Jason Roy, Alex Hales, Joe Root and a review inside six overs of the chase, Australia could have been forgiven into believing they’d psychologically had over 300 on the board. It wasn’t to be.
For Australia, the match was unmemorable, even in its ending. Maxwell, the chirpiest of Australia’s fielders during their brief early success, completely lost sight of the ball as Jos Buttler cut Starc uppishly in his direction. Fittingly, weather had the final say in their campaign as rain came bucketing down not too long after Stokes completed his third ODI ton in the chase as England shoved their ‘dear’ rivals out and took Bangladesh with them to the semifinals.
Brief scores: Australia 277/9 (Travis Head 71*, Aaron Finch 68; Mark Wood 4-33, Adil Rashid 4-41) lost to England 240/4 in 40.2 overs (Ben Stokes 102*, Eoin Morgan 87; Josh Hazlewood 2-50) by 40 runs [D/L/S method]