England against Australia has rarely required an excuse to set the pulse racing, but Saturday’s clash between two of the early pace-setters could act as the defibrillator this World Cup badly needs.
While England have so far demolished West Indies and Bangladesh, the Australians have put some dismal pre-tournament form behind them to see off South Africa and Sri Lanka. The only other 100 per cent record belongs to Pakistan, who made it three Super 12 wins out of three against Afghanistan.
Victory for either Australia or England will put them within touching distance of the semis, as well as provide the earliest of bragging-rights ahead of the first Ashes Test on December 8. Not a trick will be missed between now and then.
England and Australia meet with hopes that they can provide a T20 World Cup X-Factor
Above all, perhaps, the ICC will be hoping for an occasion to bring the World Cup to life. Ten of the 12 matches so far have been won by the team batting second, placing too much of a premium on the toss, while only three sides have made more than 160 and just three games have been settled in the last over.
Scotland’s qualification from the first round provided an early feelgood story, and Pakistan’s 10-wicket hammering of India a stirring slice of history. On Friday, West Indies and Bangladesh went down to the last ball. But the tournament needs more X-factor than that, and Saturday can provide it.
Neither side will want to cede an inch. Australia did not enjoy their last World Cup meeting with England – an eight-wicket defeat in the semi-final of the 50-over version at Edgbaston two years ago – and are in no mood for a repeat. The fact that both teams fear one another means each will be eager to land the first blow.
The competition is yet to get going with the coin toss holding a huge influence over results
England and Australia are the early pacesetters and both will try to seal a place in the semis
‘It’s probably going to be one of our most difficult games in this group stage,’ said England captain Eoin Morgan. ‘Australia are a very strong side. Coming into the tournament, they would probably be considered joint-second favourites, along with us.’
That was overstating the case: England are top of the rankings, while Australia are sixth, and recently lost 4-1 to both West Indies and Bangladesh. But it conveyed a respect that is mutual.
Australian fast bowler Pat Cummins agreed. ‘They’ve been probably just about the form team the last few years in white-ball cricket,’ he said. ‘We know it’s such a big game in the context of making the semi-finals.’
England possess the more explosive, and deeper, batting line-up, but will have noted a long overdue half-century for Australian opener David Warner in Thursday’s win against Sri Lanka – even if he did profit from the drop of the tournament by wicketkeeper Kusal Perera.
World No 1 side England are well-versed in all areas and have hit the ground running so far
Australia’s David Warner appears to be hitting form at just the right time and will be a threat
Then there are the maverick qualities of Glenn Maxwell, who helped steal a one-day series at Old Trafford in 2020 with a 90-ball 108 that included seven sixes, several off Adil Rashid’s leg-breaks.
But it’s Australia’s bowlers who are more likely to have given England a sleepless night. A frontline trio of Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood and Cummins are formidable in any format, while leg-spinner Adam Zampa took two for 12 off four match-changing overs against the Sri Lankans.
If there is a weakness for England to exploit, it will be Australia’s fifth bowler – usually some combination of Maxwell’s off-spin and the medium-pace of Marcus Stoinis and Mitchell Marsh.
But it takes plenty to faze Morgan, who is preparing for his 71st white-ball game against the Aussies and has seen most of it before. ‘If we don’t manage to gain that momentum, we have guys that can either wrestle it back or counter-punch,’ he said. ‘That’s probably what makes us a difficult side to play against. We always have a hand or a trick to play, regardless of the situation we’re in.’
Aussie bowler Pat Cummins says that the result will set a marker for this winter’s Ashes series
He even sounded relaxed about the prospect of losing the toss, which would leave his bowlers at the mercy of Dubai’s evening dew: ‘There’s always an advantage in chasing, statistically, regardless of the country you’re playing in.’
In fact, before Friday’s two games, there had been precisely no advantage either way: of the 1,318 Twenty20 internationals not to have finished as a tie or a no-result, 659 had been won by the side batting first and 659 by the side batting second.
And there is little doubt what either Morgan or his Australian counterpart Aaron Finch will do if they call correctly. So far, the only team who have chosen to bat are Afghanistan.
Morgan, who last played Test cricket in 2012 – in Dubai, as it happens – foresaw no relevance from Saturday’s result for this winter’s Ashes. But Cummins, who will lead Australia’s attack in the Tests, was not quite prepared to dissociate the two formats.
England captain Morgan (right) is not fazed by the talk and is prepared for a battle on Saturday
THREE KEY BATTLES – ENG V AUS
Moeen Ali v David Warner
Ali’s powerplay off-breaks have been a revelation so far, bringing him 7-1-35-4 against West Indies and Bangladesh. And Warner’s left-handedness will tempt Eoin Morgan to stick with the ploy. During his Test career, Ali dismissed Warner more times – four – than any other Australian batsman.
Mitchell Starc v Jason Roy
Roy hit Starc out of the attack only five overs into England’s chase in the 2019 World Cup semi-final, but Starc’s left-arm swing knocked him over first ball during an ODI in Manchester in September 2020. It is a battle that could shape the top of England’s innings – and possibly the match.
Glenn Maxwell v Liam Livingstone
Two men who like to do things their own way. Both are destructive all round the wicket, with Maxwell always looking for the reverse hit, and both bowl underrated spin, with Livingstone switching between off-breaks and leg-breaks depending on the batsman. If either player comes off, the game will know about it.
‘There are a few players that will be out at the Ashes from both sides,’ he said.
‘It’d be great to get one on the board against them.’
It’s always great when England play Australia. If they can produce a thriller Saturday, the rest of the world may thank them too.
Ashley Mallett, one of Australia’s greatest spin bowlers, has died at the age of 76 in Adelaide after fighting cancer.
Mallett took 132 Test wickets at an average of 29.84 in 38 matches between 1968 and 1980.
The quiet and gangling bowler, who was ironically nicknamed ‘Rowdy’, worked as a journalist, commentator, author and spin-bowling coach after his playing career.