England vs Australia | Saturday 08 June | Edgbaston, Birmingham | 11:30
With the Champions Trophy well and truly underway, premature predictions are proving tough to defend. In Group B South Africa are looking a very flimsy bet to top the table, although in Group A my personal opinion is that it is still between England and Australia. They meet on Saturday on a glorious batting wicket and the result of this early fixture could well decide the winner of the group. England have been humbled at the hands of an ODI series loss to New Zealand but restored pride with a confident victory in the final encounter. Australia looked to be flying in their warm-up against the West Indies but came badly unstuck against a disciplined Indian attack. I’ve already covered the non-importance of these warm-ups and although reading too much into them can be dangerous, there are certain trends that remain apparent.
Despite recovering a victory against the Black Caps in the final match of their ODI series, questions still surround the English side entering the Champions Trophy. Although they are the hosts, their form against New Zealand, ranked eighth in the world, has many a punter wary. When addressing these questions, it’s always important to remember that there are more than two sides to every argument, and perceptions can differ. For example, the Morgan - Buttler flurry of late runs against New Zealand can possibly be attributed to a solid, steady foundation laid by the top order. Or, it can be viewed as a panicked reaction to an unbelievably pedestrian approach to setting a total, and just happened to come off and push the game beyond New Zealand’s reach. You don’t get any prizes for guessing that I side with the latter view.
Another question, although from a more positive angle, has been raised by James Tredwell. He has performed consistently well every time he has pulled on an England jersey in the absence of Graeme Swann; indeed, he has outshone much of the England attack on his outings. Is there no place for him alongside Swann, with England taking a different approach to the middle overs of the innings on pitches that are decidedly un-English? If so, who misses out? As tempted as I am to immediately axe Ravi Bopara, his innocuous medium-pacers were the most economical of English spells. Alastair Cook looks to have hit a rough patch, but he never stays away from the runs for long. Despite all the questions, I expect it all to come together for English come match day. Bell, in particular, looks fluent and Trott has been scoring plenty of runs. Broad and Finn look set to return from injury. It can only get better for the English.
Having said that, it can only get better for the Australians. After being dismissed for 65 in their warm-up with India, many are beginning to predict an early exit for the Aussies. It is without a doubt that they have quality ODI players at their disposal, but it is the form of many that will be worrying after their nightmare innings which identified glaring issues. David Warner is in the middle of an horrific run of form and will need to recapture his ‘bull by the horns’ approach when he faces up against a quality English attack. Captain Michael Clarke has not taken part in any of the warm-ups due to a recurring back injury that looks set to threaten his career. He’ll most likely start, with Clarke loathe to miss out on any of the action, but it seems doubtful that he is anywhere near 100% fit. The capitulation at the hands of the Indian attack was also perhaps a timely reminder of the culture of collapse that has seemed to infiltrate Australian cricket since the retirement of their Golden Era. The old Australian backbone seems shot, especially against India and England, and it will be as much a mental effort as any other in besting their rivals on their home soil. However, this is Australia we’re talking about. Big match temperament is in their blood and I think we’ll find a trick or two up their sleeve come match day.
Edgbaston, Birmingham plays host and if the warm-up games are any indication, it should be a fantastic wicket for batting. It has become quite dry in the early English summer and hasn’t looked to offer much to the pace bowlers. I predict plenty of runs. The weather doesn’t seem likely to cause any problems.
BEST: Top Australian Batsman, Shane Watson 11/4
Watson has been in blistering form in the IPL and in the warm-up against the West Indies. On a wicket as good as this, I don’t see him missing out on many chances to hit through the line and use his strength to his advantage. Back the burly Australian.
VERDICT: Australia 1/1
The men from Down Under have an uncanny ability of pulling it together for major tournaments. The left-armer Mitchell Starc will cause problems for the English and will be well backed up by Clint McKay. I foresee runs from Watson and most probably from Clarke. I don’t feel the English are in the correct mental space after being stretched so far by New Zealand. I’m going for the outsider here.
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