AFP — Four years of planning will be put on the line for England when they face holders Australia in a blockbuster Cricket World Cup semi-final at Edgbaston on Thursday.
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 either India or New Zealand at Lord’s on Sunday.
Satellite subscription 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.
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 on superior net run-rate.
They landed a psychological blow in the group stage when they beat 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 scored crucial wins over India and New Zealand that took them into the semi-finals.
By contrast 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 paceman Liam Plunkett insisted England could rise to the occasion.
“We’re a different sort of animal compared to our last teams,” he said. “We’ve played well for the past four years, we’re ranked number one.
“We feel on our day we can beat anyone in the world.”
The five-time world champions, will pitch late call-up Peter Handscomb straight into Thursday’s match after fellow batsman Usman Khawaja suffered a tournament-ending hamstring injury against South Africa.
Australia coach Justin Langer led his squad on a barefoot walkabout around Edgbaston on Monday before they shared stories on the outfield in a so-called “bonding circle”.
“Haydos (Matthew Hayden) and I used to do it as a bit of a ritual before every Test match,” former Australia opener Langer explained.
“If you go back 12 months there wasn’t much to be relaxed and chilled about in Australian cricket, was there? We went through a major crisis in our cricket. It didn’t just affect our cricket, it affected our country.
“We’ve got to work hard on being more humble in what we do and being focused on playing good cricket.”
England has won 12 out of the last 15 matches against Australia. It is also in excellent form having won two knockout matches against the other two semi-finalists.
Australia is going to have to adapt to injuries at a crucial juncture and that is always an unknown. The advantage of playing in Birmingham also gives England the edge.