England vs Australia, ICC Cricket World Cup 2019: Defending champions learn, adapt, execute and show hosts how it's done with meticulous planning

  • Jigar Mehta
  • June 26th, 2019
  • 8:24:05 IST

"There's still enough in the wicket, that's a pretty good score. If we get the ball in the right areas, it will be tough work."

Australia were well on course for a 300-plus total after being put into bat by England on Tuesday. They ended up with 285, it was around 20-30 runs below par. Still, Australia captain Aaron Finch, in the innings break, thought it was a pretty good score. The prime focus, however, in the statement was, 'If we get the ball in the right areas, it will be tough work.'

Australia's Jason Behrendorff celebrates with teammates after taking the wicket of England's Jofra Archer. Reuters

Australia's Jason Behrendorff celebrates with teammates after taking the wicket of England's Jofra Archer. Reuters

Having been on the wicket for 35 overs and weathered the early storm, Finch had gauged the conditions well at the Lord's. He had taken note of the mistakes England had committed and already designed the blueprint for the next fifty overs. It was a part — a crucial one — of collective smaller plans, that would teach England how it's done.

It was an overcast day in London. There was moisture in the air. There was moisture on the pitch. The first part of Finch and Australia's plan was to bring in Jason Behrendorff, who could swing the ball in such overhead conditions, in place of Nathan Coulter-Nile and get in Nathan Lyon who could exercise control in the middle overs.

Behrendorff would go on to register his best ODI figures (5/44) in his eight-match career while Lyon would give away 43 runs at just 4.77 per over in the middle overs against a marauding English line-up.

The conditions made the toss crucial. Win the toss and bowl first, Michael Clarke advised in his pitch report.

The first rub of the green went England's way. Morgan won the toss and they opted to bowl. There was lateral movement in the air and off the pitch with some extra bounce.

The conditions demanded the bowlers hit fuller lengths or pitch it on the good length area. Chris Woakes did it off the second ball and nearly gobbled Finch, whose outside edge off an expansive drive flew over Joe Root over the second slip.

Five overs later, Finch again flirted with danger and drove one uppishly, off the full ball from Jofra Archer, only for a leaping James Vince at point to palm it away.

In between, England veered away from the full lengths and bowled short of good length or back of length balls far too often. And that allowed the scoreboard to tick over.

Finch learnt from his mistakes and became more cautious while at the other end, Warner was already watchful. Yes, edges, both inside and outside, were beaten time and again but the plan was to be compact and capitalise on width. Not take unnecessary risks. The duo pounced upon short balls and mixed caution with aggression.

The England pacers kept veering away from the fuller lengths. To add to it, they weren't hitting the stumps. It allowed Finch and Warner to get into the groove, settle in and then accelerate.

The duo adapted well. They were patient to start off and then went into cruise control. Finch shuffled across and moved out of his crease against Woakes who was bowling tight lines, to keep his nemesis — LBW — at bay. He played on the backfoot to Archer who was bowling about 10-12 kmph faster than Woakes. He adjusted well.

Warner, on the other hand, looked more fluent as compared to his previous knocks in a new avatar. In the first 10 overs, Australia were 44/0. In the next 10, they scored at 7 an over to take it to 114.

The pair had learnt, adjusted and constructed a plan gauging the conditions and the pitch. And the England pacers provided them with a helping hand.

Finch and Warner added 123 runs from 22.4 overs to build a solid platform before Warner was done in by extra bounce of Moeen Ali on 53. Finch carried on and scored a century and got out the very next ball.

England clawed back in the middle overs before Alex Carey's late burst carried Australia to 285. It was a bit under-par but that also explained the importance of the Warner-Finch stand.

"On a pitch like this where the ball is doing a bit, you need to forget about the previous ball and focus on the next ball and if it's there in the range to hit, you should hit that. And that is exactly what both (Warner and Finch) of them did," Sachin Tendulkar explained at the innings break on Star Sports.

"They were beaten on few occasions here and there but they didn't get bogged down by that and the mental setup was that we are going to go out and express ourselves. If the ball is there to be hit, we are going to hit the balls. Finch was walking out of the crease and making a statement, that shows your mental setup."

Tendulkar predicted that there will be lateral movement even in the second innings. Finch had sensed it already. The next plan was ready to be executed. The new ball was handed over to Behrendorff.

Ten days, ago, Behrendorff was asked to bowl one change against Sri Lanka at the Oval. Pat Cummins opened with Starc. The theme could have been the same given the way Cummins has bowled in the tournament. But Australia had gauged the conditions well and so had the left-arm pacer.

Beherndorff, like a king, set off on his the turbo V8 engine-fitted Ferrari to clinch a second-ball wicket. A peach of an inswinger, full, on middle and off, swinging late and seaming back in to disturb James Vince's furniture.

"Was still a toss-up with Pat Cummins doing well with the new ball too. But when you've got a guy who can swing the ball back into a couple of right-handers early on, you use his best asset," Finch explained of the decision to give Behrendorff the new ball.

18 balls later, Starc sent back Joe Root. It was that full swinging ball on middle, tailing back in off the seam and trapping the in-form No 3 dead plumb.

The mantra is simple: Bowl full and on the stumps, something which England couldn't do. In between the two wickets, both the opening bowlers got hit for a four each off full deliveries but they persisted with the length.

In the first four overs, according to data analytics company Cricviz, England had bowled only 25 percent full deliveries while Australia had bowled double at 50.

"If you get the ball in the right area, there's enough there. You use your short ball sparingly," Finch had said during the interval after the first innings. "You use it a bit differently to what it has been when the wicket has been a lot slower and flatter."

This is where the third plan is formulated.

Eoin Morgan has been dismissed two times this year hooking/pulling prior to this, according to Cricviz. He is vulnerable to short ball early on in the innings. So 13 balls later, Starc decides to use that 'sparing short ball' strategy. It's on Morgan's body and at pace. He is hurried in his pull and ends up top edging it to fine leg and into the safe hands of Cummins.

Three down for 26 inside six overs. The English spine is broken.

"That's something we were assessing as they were bowling. They didn't hit the stumps, or the balls were going to hit the stumps too often, so we made a conscious effort to try to pitch up and we hit the stumps as much as we could early doors," Behrendorff explained how Australia analysed England's shortcomings and acted upon it.

"I think we executed that quite well on the whole and which was really positive, and we were able to get off to an excellent start which is always really important," the left-arm seamer added.

The next eight overs yield just 27 runs. The pressure builds and Bairstow, out of impatience, drags a pull from outside off to hole out in the deep off Behrendorff. 53/4.

With everything having gone to plan, the match has to witness a Stoinis partnership-breaking short delivery. It does arrive (not that short though), in 28th over to send back the dangerous Buttler.

Ben Stokes smashes. Ben Stokes hobbles. Ben Stokes charges. Ben stokes hammers. You sense there is another Leeds-esque heroic knock coming. The 50-stand is up with Chris Woakes.

Nothing has gone wrong for Aaron Finch so far. So the trend has to continue. He brings on his strike bowler Mitchell Starc with the potential reverse swing on offer.

Six deliveries later, the 'ball of this World Cup' is born. A fast, unplayable reverse-swinging yorker on off which would have crashed onto the stumps even if all the possible gravitational and magnetic forces had conspired against Starc to pull Stokes' bat down in time.

England bat deep, very deep. You cannot count them out with Moeen Ali and Woakes still at the crease.

Two overs later, Finch calls back Beherndorff. In space of his next three overs, he has his maiden ODI five-for and his name etched on the coveted Lord's honours board. The length ball devours Ali and the slower balls beguile Woakes and Archer.

Starc fittingly wipes off the final English traces sending back Adil Rashid to jet Australia into semi-final.

England have mastered the flat tracks but struggled on challenging ones, especially their batsmen. They have been found wanting without plan B or Plan C.

On an overcast day in London, Australia belted out a strong lesson to not just the English batsmen but also their bowlers on how to learn, adjust, adapt, execute and conquer.

It's not all over for them. England are still in with a chance. But their future largely depends on how fast they can not only learn these lessons but also implement successfully.

For all the latest news, opinions and analysis from ICC Cricket World Cup 2019, click here

Updated Date: June 26, 2019 08:24:05 IST

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