LONDON: Australia’s sodden Champions Trophy campaign has ended with a whimper at the hands of a rampant England side that affirmed their rightful status as tournament favourites with a convincing win at Edgbaston.
Having limped to 9-277 from their 50 overs, Australia were in full control when they removed England’s top three inside six overs before the rain that has haunted them throughout this tour intervened.
And in keeping with a frustrating campaign, the 45-minute delay worked against the Australians as the hosts regrouped and then exploded after the break thanks to star allrounder Ben Stokes (102 not out) and skipper Eoin Morgan (87 from 81 balls).
Having chastised his quicks after a loose showing against New Zealand a week ago, skipper Steve Smith could only watch on as his bowlers conceded 27 fours and eight sixes in just 40.2 overs of extraordinary batting before rain fittingly brought a premature end to the day, England winning by 40 runs on the Duckworth-Lewis-Stern method with six wickets in hand.
Morgan, who was dropped by Matthew Wade on 12 before the initial rain break, hit the first two deliveries after the delay to the cover fence and went on the attack as Australia’s quicks tried to expose him with some short-pitched bowling.
The left-hander hammered eight fours and five sixes before he was run out by a direct hit from Adam Zampa after a mix-up with Stokes.
Stokes survived a close LBW shout first ball but was equally as damaging as Morgan, bringing up his third ODI century with his 13th four having shared a match-winning 159-run stand with his skipper.
The noise from the famous Eric Hollies Stand grew louder and louder as the boundaries and refreshments flowed in the afternoon, opener Aaron Finch the unfortunate target of the record crowd’s merriment that no doubt became less and less bearable for the tourists as the victory target drew rapidly closer.
The result means three of the four semi-finalists from the last World Cup won’t progress to the final four of this tournament; Australia’s defeat sees them join New Zealand on the Group A scrap heap while the loser of India’s match against South Africa on Sunday will also be eliminated.
The winner of Sunday’s clash will likely take on Bangladesh in their semi-final in Birmingham on Thursday, the first time the Tigers have reached the semis of a major tournament, while England will head to Cardiff to probably play the winner of Monday’s match between Pakistan and Sri Lanka.
The loss also continues Australia’s dismal record in Birmingham, where they’ve now won just one of their past 16 matches stretching back to 1993.
The performance of the day from an Australian perspective came from Travis Head, whose brilliant rear-guard innings of 71no from 64 balls saved Australia from potential embarrassment after they lost 5-15 in less than five overs late in their innings. It was the 23-year-old’s seventh score of fifty or more since debuting just 12 months ago and again underlined his importance to this side, both now and long into the future.
But Head’s performance was the only real bright spot for the tourists as England landed a small mental blow ahead of the Ashes later this year and moved one game closer to winning their first major one-day title.
Australia’s opening duo of David Warner and Finch started the day in typically damaging fashion having been sent in to bat before a superb delivery from Mark Wood (4-33) sent Warner on his way for 21. The lively Durham quick jagged one away from the left-hander and found the edge behind before he had Smith playing and missing at the very next ball.
The loss of his opening partner didn’t slow Finch’s early momentum, however, the Victorian racing to his fourth 50-plus score against England from his past five ODI innings and his highest score against any nation in more than 12 months.
The right-hander clobbered eight fours in a 96-run partnership with Smith and it was very much against the flow of play that he perished for 68 when the score was 136 having skied a drive off Stokes that was well held by Morgan running back at cover.
It started the first of two collapses that plagued Australia’s lower order and ensured they fell well short of the 300 total that had looked likely when Finch was in full flow.
Moises Henriques came to the crease and quickly produced a trio of sumptuous boundaries, three of the cleanest strikes of the day, but a swipe across the line against the impressive Adil Rashid led to his downfall for 17, much to the visible frustration of his skipper at the non-striker’s end.
And Smith’s disappointment was directed at himself just five overs later when he spooned a simple catch to mid-on off Wood, his dismissal for 56 from 77 balls completing a collapse of 3-45.
Head and Glenn Maxwell then shared an enterprising 58-run stand that revived hopes of a 300-plus total, but a superb grab on the eastern boundary from Jason Roy sparked the beginning of a rapid decline in the late overs.
Two balls after his former Yorkshire teammate Liam Plunkett spilled a hot chance at cover, Maxwell (20) tried to put Wood into the Hollies Stand but Roy held the catch – and his nerve – despite his momentum carrying him over boundary rope. A lengthy television review confirmed Roy’s foot was millimetres inside the field of play when the catch was initially taken and the raucous reaction from the crowd of 24,227, a record for an ODI at Edgbaston, only amplified as the lower order fell apart.
Wade and Mitchell Starc were both dismissed in the 44th over trying to sweep Rashid, the latter from a full toss, before Pat Cummins chipped a simple return catch in the spinner’s next over as he finished with 4-41 from his 10 overs.
Wood then cleaned bowled Zampa for zero to complete a four-wicket haul of his own, a career best, and a collapse of 5-15 in just 26 balls.
But from 9-254, Head shared a 23-run stand with Josh Hazlewood (who contributed a single) in the final three overs to lift the score to 9-277 and shift the momentum back in Australia’s favour at the innings break.
And when Roy (4), Alex Hales (0) and Joe Root (15) were all dismissed inside six overs thanks to a superb opening spell from Starc and Hazlewood, the match was in Australia’s hands.
Having struck Starc’s first delivery to the rope at long-off, Roy was trapped dead in front next ball to continue his miserable run of form and see England lose a wicket and their only review in the opening over.
Hazlewood had both Hales and Root caught behind the wicket and he could have removed Morgan as well, but Wade spilled a chance diving down the leg side.
And it was all downhill from there for the Aussies as the hosts continued to ride a seemingly unstoppable wave of momentum that they hope will lead them all the way to the final at The Oval on Sunday week.
By which time the Australians will either be back home or scattered around various English county sides, contemplating a second consecutive winless campaign in this tournament.