BIRMINGHAM: Four years of planning will be put on the line for England when they face holders Australia in a blockbuster World Cup semi-final at Edgbaston today.
England’s woeful first-round exit at the 2015 edition prompted a complete rethink of their approach to one-day internationals for a side that had long placed Test success above all other considerations.
Australian coach Trevor Bayliss was drafted in with the aim of guiding their bid for a first World Cup title.
The transformation has been impressive, with England climbing to number one in the ODI rankings under the astute captaincy of Eoin Morgan.
Their rise to the summit has been based on dynamic run-scoring, with in-form openers Jason Roy and Jonny Bairstow leading the way.
But the stakes for hosts England are higher than simply the winning of a match that would see them into a final against New Zealand at Lord´s on Sunday.
Host broadcaster Sky has said it will allow the final to be shown on free-to-air television in Britain — but only if England are involved in the showpiece match.
It would be the first time since 2005 that a major England men’s home match had emerged from behind a UK television paywall, with cricket having a chance to reconnect with a ‘lost’ audience in its birthplace.
But Morgan urged England to avoid being overawed by the scale of the task confronting them in Birmingham.
“Sometimes I’m guilty of it, you can lose sight of the position you´re in and the fact you´re living your dream,” Morgan said on Wednesday.
Australia, however, have never lost any of their seven previous World Cup semi-finals — although they did tie with South Africa at Edgbaston 20 years ago before advancing into the final thanks to their superior net run-rate from the preceding ‘Super Six’ stage.
England had won 10 of their last 11 ODIs against Australia prior to the World Cup.
But that counted for nothing when Australia landed a psychological blow in the group stage, beating Ashes rivals England by 64 runs at Lord´s last month.
Australia left-arm quicks Jason Behrendorff and Mitchell Starc shared nine wickets between them in a match where Australia captain Aaron Finch made 100 after surviving a testing opening from England´s fast bowlers.
Roy, however, was missing with a torn hamstring and since his return, England have secured crucial wins over India and New Zealand that took them into the semi-finals.
“We’re probably more confident than we were three games ago, we’re a different team,” Morgan said.
“It feels like we´re back to the team we are.”
Meanwhile, Australia, who have not won in any format at Edgbaston since the 2001 Ashes Test, suffered a surprise 10-run defeat by South Africa at Old Trafford in their final group game.
England, as well as finding a way to cope with Starc, will have to contain the run-scoring threat of a powerful Australian top order.
David Warner has scored 638 runs this tournament following the left-handed opener’s return to international cricket after a 12-month ban for his role in a ball-tampering scandal in South Africa.
But they will be without Usman Khawaja after the batsman suffered a tournament-ending hamstring injury against South Africa, while speculation about Glenn Maxwell’s place intensified when the struggling all-rounder did not attend training on Wednesday.
“It’s a purely optional training session, you’re reading a bit too much into it,” said Finch on Wednesday when asked about Maxwell, who has scored just 155 runs in nine innings.
Australia are bidding for a sixth World Cup title, having won four of the last five editions.
“We’re full of confidence going into this game, but England have been front runners in one-day cricket for the last four years,” said opener Finch.
“It will come down to whoever holds their nerve and whoever holds their half-chances.”