ICC World Cup 2019: England vs Australia: The Aussie meltdown
Birmingham, July 12: Barely an hour after putting India out of the competition on Wednesday, Trent Boult was asked which of England or Australia he preferred meeting in the World Cup final. New Zealand's swing king was quick on the draw, belting out 'Australia' long before the question had ended. It wasn't because Boult fancied a Little Brother v Big Brother showdown on cricket's grandest occasion. He felt it was payback time, that there was some unfinished business to attend to.
After all, Australia had bested their trans-Tasman neighbours by seven wickets in the 2015 final in Melbourne in a contest that barely rose to competitive heights from the time Brendon McCullum had his stumps rearranged in the first over for a duck by Mitchell Starc. New Zealand laboured to 183 all out in front of a packed house at the Melbourne Cricket Ground. The number which drove mighty West Indies to their knees at Lord's in 1983 was far too inadequate for the Aussies, who raced home with 101 deliveries to spare.
Boult will have to wait another four years, at the very least, for his wish to come true. This, after Australia, once-mighty Australia, were absolutely decimated in Thursday's second semi-final at Edgbaston by the new kings of One-Day International cricket, England.
This wasn't a defeat as much as it was an annihilation. It was supposed to the precursor to the Ashes starting in three weeks' time; instead, it turned out to be a damp squib. England were switched on from ball one, Australia didn't turn up with the exception of the admirable Steve Smith, who rode the loud and sustained boos of the spectators with a smile on his face as the rest of his colleagues deserted him with the rapidity of falling autumn leaves, and Alex Carey, who made light of a cut to his chin off a Jofra Archer bouncer to bat on and then keep wicket after having stitches inserted.
When Eoin Morgan, fittingly, clubbed Jason Behrendorff for the winning boundary to trigger a display of fireworks similar to those that had emanated from Jason Roy's scything willow, Australia had been beaten in the semi-final of a World Cup for the first time.
The five-time champions lost finals in 1975 (to West Indies) and 1996 (Sri Lanka), were defeated in the quarter-final in 2011 by eventual champions India, and failed to progress beyond the first stage in 1979, 1983 and, embarrassingly, in their own backyard in 1992. But they had never found the semi-final hurdle too steep in seven previous outings. This time, there simply was no way for them past a formidable England side that rode on a groundswell of home support and their own reinvented approach to 50-over cricket to guarantee a first-time winner at Lord's on Sunday.
Australia bore no resemblance to the champion outfits of the recent past - they came into this competition with four triumphs in the last five World Cups - or to the team that had strung together a spectacular run since this March after two horrendous years. It wasn't so much that they were nailed by eight wickets, and 17.5 overs to spare, that was shocking; there was not even a glimpse of the trademark Aussie spunk.
From the moment Archer struck with his first ball - the seventh of the match - to pack off Aaron Finch, Australia looked edgy and nervous, timid and diffident. Their characteristic swagger had been packed away, it seemed; the swag, instead, was with England, bold and creative with the ball, enterprising and ferocious with the bat. Australia might have seen a mirror image of their glorious history in their opponents, England might have in turn espied in the Aussies the tameness of their own predecessors whose conservatism was thrown disdainfully out of the window in the immediacy of their first-round elimination in the previous edition in 2015.
Australia had revealed cracks earlier too, and were punished by India and South Africa in the league phase. On this day, they left themselves ripe for the picking, and England stepped up to deliver the killer blows the moment they sensed an opening. Strange as it was to see an Australian meltdown on the grandest of stages, it was also weirdly exhilarating to witness England's muscular, entertaining display.
England have denied Boult his first shot at redemption. They do, however, present him with a second chance, even if it could be at their own expense. Over to Lord's, then.
(R Kaushik is a cricket writer who has followed the sport closely for nearly three decades, and is covering his seventh World Cup)