The stalking wolf

One of the big matches in the CWC last night, Australia taking on the home team, England.

I haven’t been wholly convinced by Australia going into the match last night, but there was also a sense of building into the tournament. By comparison, England had been flashy in their victories and disappointing in their losses. I was pretty confident that Australia would win.

A lot of that confidence was due to the nature of the tournament. I’d expressed doubt before it began that the pressure might get to England. The home team in front of a rabid crowd going into it as the hot favourites – what could go wrong? It was unfamiliar territory for a team that has underperformed for 25 years. Tournament play is different too. It takes a different mindset, and the pressure builds as you go along. This is what Australia has always excelled at.

On top of all that, there’s no team in the world the English want to beat more than Australia. We’re sort of the same, except I don’t think it’s as heartfelt here. We’ve almost always come out on top. The resentment of being perpetually inferior had never developed on our side. We expect to win, mostly, and it hurts when we don’t – but there’s the feeling that it won’t be long until we do again. It’s an interruption to the service, rather than normal service. Now that England finally has a team worth bragging about they want nothing more than avenging all those years of losing to us, but there’s something frantic about it, and it comes with pressure all of its own. As we’ve seen with South Africa, you can want it too much.

So last night on a tricky wicket Australia batted first and had a great start before stumbling late, but still posting a decent score. We were probably 50 runs shy of what we looked like we might get, but it was still a par score, if not a little better.

My frustrations with the team earlier in the tournament were evident again last night, with the middle order getting in each other’s way. I think the batting order is a big part of the problem. I have no problem with Khawaja coming in first drop in the first 15 overs, but if it’s later it should be Smith.

Then I’d probably put Stoinis in. He’s a matchwinner on his day but needs time to build into his innings. Right now he’s coming in and having to slog from the first ball, which is not his go. We’re not playing to our strengths, but there is sufficient talent and experience and leadership to get over the line.

That was a big thing last night. Half this team have played and won CWC finals. They know how it works, they’re familiar with the pressure, and they have trust in themselves and each other. And Finch is a great captain. There’s probably no calmer team in this comp than the Aussies, and that’s why.

In the end, they won easily. Starc was as his devastating best, and Behrendorrf played a big cameo. I don’t think Cummins has hit his straps all tournament, but he’s still a very handy cricketer.

Australia has now locked up a spot in the semis. England has lost two on the trot and have two tough games to come. It’ll be a real test of their resilience, and they could easily miss out altogether.

Long way to go. No chickens yet. But the world will be afraid. The big, bad wolf is back.

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