England showing the mark of champions

Wicketkeeper Matthew Wade can only look on as England's Eoin Morgan lofts the ball for six.  Photograph: Getty Images
Wicketkeeper Matthew Wade can only look on as England's Eoin Morgan lofts the ball for six. Photograph: Getty Images
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What a tournament the ICC Champions Trophy is as every day offers a must-win match between the best eight nations in the world.

Australia, for more than 20 years the stand-out one day side in the world, are going home, courtesy of the old enemy, while other nations fret over run-rates to try to decide supremacy. Not Bangladesh though. They are through and no-one, not even themselves expected that. The short format of three group matches leading directly to two semi-finals has given the past ten days an urgency that has made almost every ball seem a game changer.

Who will win? After yesterday it is difficult to look past host side England. They have never won an international 50 over tournament and in recent years have they not been as good as poor, but the cricket they are playing now is so aggressive from start to finish it is hard to resist.

Goodness they were good. Whether it was the guile of Adil Rashid with his mix of crafted legspin and googlies, the pace of Mark Wood, especially in the closing overs of Australia’s innings or the brutal destruction of the Australian attack by the left handers, Eoin Morgan and Ben Stokes, England seemed to be exerting a stranglehold on the game.

This was a real test, the opening salvo of this winter’s Ashes series and England dominated it and ironically in the style of the great Australian sides at the start of the century. Morgan won the toss, inserted and then demanded wickets. Australia responded well despite losing David Warner early and seemed well set at 239-2 in 43 overs. A score near 320 was possible and needed, but here England’s relentless attacking worked as five wickets fell for 15 runs. It was a bold move by Morgan to bowl Rashid this late in the innings but he was superb. He exerted a hold with a delicious mix of googlies, sliders and the occasional leg spinner.

It is still one of the joys of all cricket to watch a wrist spinner tease, torment and tantalise batsmen and dispel the myth that spinners are always vulnerable when the boundaries are short.

At the other end, Wood continued to demonstrate why he is fast becoming one of the premier “death” bowlers in the game with searing pace aimed full and straight. They both finished with four wickets and ensured Australia limped to a much below par 277.

That they reached that was due to Travis Head who scored a superb run-a-ball half century but the feeling was Australia were one frontline powerful batsman light and suffered when wickets fell in succession. Much the same could be said of England, with Jos Buttler batting at six, and at 35-3 it was a real challenge.

Not that it seemed one as Morgan and Ben Stokes flayed, smashed and stroked the Australian bowlers all round Edgbaston. They were fortunate that a short rain break allowed them to regroup but on the resumption they dealt in power and boundaries. Poor old Pat Cummins suffered an assault from Stokes that almost demanded police attention. He is not quick enough to drop short so has to pitch up and hope the drives hit his exactly placed fielders. Stokes cared little about finesse or the placement of fielders and just tried to launch every ball through or over the off side. It was calculated and dismissive and his century was further confirmation of his status as the world’s best all-rounder. Their partnership of 159 in 26 overs decided the game. Morgan was run out for 87, Stokes continued to a century and Buttler assisted before the rain fell with England well ahead.

Stokes will take plaudits as befits an aggressive player in an aggressive era but when 50-over cricket is distilled into T20 with a tad more patience it is perfect for him. Lucky England to have him. So Australia leave their rain-affected tournament humiliated. New Zealand leave chastened and two of India, Pakistan, South Africa and Sri Lanka leave soon bemoaning wasted opportunities.

England however march on, two wins from a famous triumph.