Two months ago, England were overwhelming favourites to hold the ICC 2019 World Cup Trophy aloft on the balcony at Lord's on 14 July. Then came the tournament proper and other teams began to gain steam.
If this is a World Cup of see-saw fortunes, despite the overwhelming favourites making the final four, it is also one in which other teams punched hard, some above their weight, setting up some delicious clashes. When England play Australia at Edgbaston, it is an Ashes preview of sorts — wrong format, wrong personnel — but the same two teams at the same venue a month later in a Test.
England are a team on the back of setbacks finally getting the conditions they work best with, a flat deck, one short boundary and they made the most of it. India were nowhere near bad, but England did their thing, just as they had in the years preceding the World Cup while they built their reputation as the team to beat.
Then, Australia became the first team to seal a spot in the final four. At the time, England were very much in the running, but there was a statistical possibility that they would not even be around for the final stages of their own party at home. A win against India reduced the uncertainty, and then they still had to beat New Zealand.
Once these boxes were ticked, England could rest easy. By that time, though, Australia, who had cracked the popcorn and watched the qualification scenarios from the sidelines, were waiting to play their final game. When table-toppers played ousted South Africa in the final match of the league phase, it should have been a dead rubber. But who would have known that this was the game that would decide which team played which opponent, at which venue?
And, given each team's relative strengths and weaknesses, and their preferences for certain conditions, South Africa's final hurrah, beating Australia, ensured that India were pitted against New Zealand at a low-scoring venue, one in which the team batting first won six times out of six in this World Cup.
And the door was left open for Australia to take on England on a belter of a pitch in Edgbaston. Even with rain about, this was a semi-final that was about a team that is used to winning the big matches in the big tournaments — five trophies sit in the Jolimont Road offices of Cricket Australia — as much as it will be about England dreaming the dream at home.
For now, Australia have cooled their heels long enough to be fully powered up. Neither team has momentum, in that sense, but both have form.
Australia will be buoyed by the fact that their main weapons — David Warner, Aaron Finch, Mitchell Starc and Pat Cummins have been in emphatic form. Warner has scored 26 percent of Australia's runs and Starc has taken 26 wickets, most by any bowler at a World Cup. The only top player that is yet to leave a mark on the tournament is Steve Smith. The former captain will return to No 3, in the absence of Usman Khawaja, who has been ruled out of the tournament due to a hamstring tear.
There are still doubts over Marcus Stoinis, but Justin Langer expected the all-rounder to play. Australia need runs from the middle order and the onus will be on Smith, Glenn Maxwell and Stoinis to deliver. There is an outside chance that Australia could throw Matthew Wade into the middle order. The wicket-keeper batsman has been in hot form in domestic cricket and on the A tour of England. The safer option is Peter Handscomb, the Victorian batsman was unfairly dropped from the squad and the semi-final could be his moment to shine.
Australia will take great confidence from having beaten England in the warm-up and the league matches. However, the pitch at Edgbaston is expected to be belter, meaning it will suit the home teams bang and bash approach. On the eve of the match, Aaron Finch was of the opinion the pitch will suit the batsman.
"I expect a good cricket wicket, something that will be probably batter-friendly. You don't expect too much different here at Edgbaston. It's a very entertaining ground. It's relatively high-scoring if you look at the statistics over the last few years, so it will be a good, fun encounter to watch no doubt."
England are likely to persist with the same team that brushed apart India and New Zealand with relative ease. The weather is also expected to be dry and a high scoring contest is likely on the cards. But at the end of the day, it will come down to which team handles the pressure.
Though pre-tournament parity has been restored, this is all too familiar territory for Australia. They have been in a World Cup semi-final seven times and never lost. England haven't been in a semi-final for 27 years and though Australia know exactly how to win from here, it is still England's game to lose.