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Jason Roy caps bowlers' onslaught as England blaze a trail to World Cup final

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Published in Cricket
Thursday, 11 July 2019 11:02

England (Roy 85) beat Australia 223 (Smith 85, Woakes 3-20) by eight wickets

How does that old song go again? Thirty years of hurt? Make that 44 and counting (and contrary to the lyrics, England's cricketers certainly gave up dreaming for at least 20 of those). But suddenly it's all up for grabs. On home soil, with the wind behind their backs and the fates screaming in their favour. Is it coming home this time? If you don't believe it now, you truly never will.

One thing is for sure. New Zealand await in the World Cup final at Lord's on Sunday, where for the first time since Sri Lanka at Lahore in 1996, a brand-new team is sure to be crowned as champions. But after the jitters and the wobbles, the niggles and the doubts, today was the day when England banished the angst and restored the roar that had carried the side to the top of the world ODI rankings.

Put simply, Australia are not meant to suffer beatings this comprehensive in World Cup knock-out matches. They had not lost any of their previous seven visits to the semi-finals, and yet a massive 107 deliveries still remained when victory, fittingly, was sealed with a swipe over long-on from England's captain, Eoin Morgan, the man in whose image this team has been remoulded since the misery of 2015.

After adapting their gung-ho attitudes to haul themselves into the last four, this was a throwback performance of a more recent genre from England, on a day that had dawned fraught with the sort of anticipation not truly witnessed in an England v Australia contest since that seismic Ashes Test at Edgbaston in 2005. Then as now, England knew they had their opponents' measure after a generation of subjugation, but the weight of history isn't something that can be cast off at a whim.

Or so we might have assumed. Instead, England tapped into the same mindset that had crushed Australia 5-0 in their bilateral series a mere 12 months ago, and produced a performance that had far more in common with that 481-run pasting at Trent Bridge than the rather timid, confused surrender at Lord's a fortnight ago that had left their tournament in such jeopardy.

Ferocity was England's watchword from the outset, and with ball and bat alike. Not even the loss of an apparently crucial toss could unhinge them, as Chris Woakes and Jofra Archer contrived in the space of 16 balls to blow away Australia's totemic openers, Aaron Finch and David Warner, before Adil Rashid produced the spell of his tournament to undermine a doughty fightback from Steve Smith and Alex Carey, who batted on gamely after a savage blow to the chin from Archer had left him bleeding profusely and requiring stitches.

And thereafter it was over to Jason Roy - the man of England's tournament, whatever the final may bring - who climbed into a sub-par target of 224 with a hugely intelligent blend of caution and mounting arrogance. He and Jonny Bairstow displayed the wisdom gleaned from earlier tournament hiccups to see off a briefly threatening Mitchell Starc, but retained the right to flog allcomers with impunity wherever their lines strayed from the straight and narrow.

At the end of the Powerplay, England were 50 for 0 and cruising, and Roy began to turn on the afterburners. Nathan Lyon, a scourge of English batsman in Ashes battles gone by, was pumped for six first-ball as he entered the fray for the 11th over. And when Australia, in desperation, tossed the ball to Smith in a bid for any sort of a breakthrough, Roy responded with three consecutive sixes - the third of which, into the fourth tier of the new stand, was surely the largest on this ground since Andrew Flintoff's iconic smoking of Brett Lee into what was then a building site during that 2005 Test.

Only accident or injury seemed capable of dampening England's day, and both did briefly flare up - first when Bairstow had to receive treatment after tweaking his groin while turning for a second run. He was never quite as fluent again before falling lbw to Starc for 34 - a dismissal which, in using up England's review, had a major bearing on the second flashpoint of England's chase.

On 85, Roy climbed into a pull at a bouncer from Pat Cummins - and was left utterly bewildered as umpire Kumar Dharmasena first began to single a wide, but then rather apologetically raised his finger, seemingly swayed at the last second by the vehemence of Australia's appeals. Roy signalled for the review, was reminded he had none left, and then launched into an apoplectic rant that betrayed the enormity of the task still at hand.

A demerit point or two may await Roy for his wrath, although it is not thought that his place in the final will be at jeopardy - but nor was it in his absence from the crease either, as Joe Root - with typical gap-finding aplomb - and Morgan - with mounting confidence in spite of a few more awkward moments against the short ball - eased England over the line in an unbroken stand of 79.

England have endured some absolute towellings in the 27 years since they last set foot in a World Cup final, from Faisalabad 1996 to Colombo 2011 to Wellington 2015. But this was a performance that deserves to resonate in a similar manner.

Australia were ahead in the contest for, at best, a solitary delivery, when David Warner - pumped to the gunwales with adrenalin but eerily calm as the boos rang around him - leaned effortlessly into a first-ball loosener from Chris Woakes and stroked a cover-driven four that evoked memories of Phil DeFreitas to Michael Slater at the Gabba in 1994-95 - a four that allegedly lost the Ashes there and then.

But England, to their credit, adapted collectively and quickly. They'd been guilty, in the group-stage defeat at Lord's, of bowling too short when the conditions had favoured swing. But Woakes hauled himself back half a yard to join the dots for the rest of the over, and hand the baton to Jofra Archer, for a rather more effective first-baller.

After making 496 runs in first seven World Cup innings, Finch's campaign has now finished with scores of 8, 3, 0 - the first time in his ODI career that he's collected three consecutive single-figure scores - and what a time to do it. There was always a suspicion that he'd be susceptible to the one that shaped back into his pads, but Archer utterly nailed his length, a perfect jag-backer that would have crashed into middle and leg, and a review burnt as well.

Watch on Hotstar: Jason Roy's belligerent innings of 85

Warner wasn't about to be cowed. An extraordinary belligerent launch over Woakes' head for another four confirmed he was still pumped for the contest. But Woakes' response was emphatic and brilliant. Back of a length, leaping into the splice, a proper Test-match dismissal as Bairstow second slip clung onto a flyer.

It might have been two in two for Woakes, as Peter Handscomb - nervy and shuffling - was pinned on the crease and survived a reviewed lbw only on umpire's call. But instead Woakes bagged him 11 balls later, bowled off a tentative inside-edge after a World Cup debut to forget.

Inevitably, Australia found the resolve to dig their way back into the game, as Smith - with his fourth half-century in as many World Cup knock-out appearances - found an ally in Carey, whose entire head required swaddling to cope with the gash in his chin after Archer's vicious lifter.

The pair had just begun to cause England's fans a few jitters with a fourth-wicket stand of 103 when Rashid - his shoulder clearly bothering him all tournament - produced the impactful over for which his captain had been priming him for pretty much the past four years. If Carey's dismissal was careless, a loose swipe to cow corner where James Vince was lurking on the rope, then Marcus Stoinis' was brilliant - the biggest ripping googly of Rashid's World Cup to date, the perfect welcoming gift for a batsman who played hopelessly down the wrong line to be pinned on off stump for a second-ball duck.

Smith, again, redoubled his efforts, but his support cast was found wanting. Glenn Maxwell was suckered by a genius knuckleball from Archer, a few 20kph of pace lost with no discernible change of action as Morgan collected a lob in the covers, before Cummins poked another googly to slip. And when Smith himself was run out by an extraordinary shy that wriggled through a gap in his groin and beat him to the crease, the resistance was as good as over. Seventeen overs of the Jason and Jonny show later, there was truly no recourse.

And now it's off to Lord's where - with the respect that is due to Kane Williamson and Co. after their own stage-seizing performance against India - England will stride into the contest with the swagger of a side that has already ripped the crown clean off the defeated king's head. And if that sort of attitude happens to be exactly the type that will play into their unsung opponents' hands, then so be it. It is hard to see how England could possibly take a backwards step after this sort of statement victory.

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