This was the moment England cricket had been waiting for.
Four years after the 2015 World Cup debacle, they have reached the summit clash. The final stop in an arduous journey that started with transforming the way they played and viewed white-ball cricket.
For too long, England were ‘also rans’ in limited overs tournaments, apart from 2010 World T20 triumph, while maintaining their focus on red-ball cricket. While teams like Australia – and recently India – had mastered the art of being competitive in all forms of cricket, England need a booster shot to get their house in order for the home World Cup in 2019.
With Andrew Strauss as the director of cricket, Eoin Morgan – with Trevor Bayliss as coach – was given a free hand to revitalise their white-ball cricket. And what they have managed in four years is nothing short of revolutionary.
Very few can claim to change the way the game is played. England can legitimately be called pioneers of a new form of ‘total cricket’ that emphasises attacking from the outset – with the ball, in the field and especially with the bat.
In the years leading up to the World Cup, England had perfected the art of batting the opposition out of the match with scores of 350 and above with a regularity never before seen in the game. It is no surprise that the two highest scores in ODI cricket – 444 and 481 – were scored by England in the last three years.
Morgan’s boys were expected to coast into the 2019 World Cup semis but surprisingly slow and challenging pitches, plus a shock defeat to Sri Lanka and then to Australia, saw them wobble. With their backs to the wall, England defeated India and New Zealand to enter the last-four.
There, Australia won a crucial toss in Birmingham and it looked like the defending champions would run away with the game in good batting conditions. But Chris Woakes and Jofra Archer gave the Aussie top order a lesson for the ages – and the upcoming Ashes – as the defending champions could only muster 223.
If Aaron Finch though his quicks would do what the Kiwis did to India’s batting line-up, he was in for a shock as Jason Roy and Jonny Bairstow hit Mitchell Starc and co with such force, they didn’t know whether to hold fort or retreat.
Australia had never lost a World Cup semi-final, but Thursday saw a crushing first as England chased down the runs with more than 100 balls to spare.
Next up for England are New Zealand in the final at Lord’s on Sunday. The entire cricketing world and also the whole of England – for the first time in 14 years now that cricket will be aired on free-to-air TV in the UK – will be watching Morgan and co pursue the elusive World Cup trophy.
Every era has its pioneers. England have without doubt set a new benchmark in ODI cricket.
On Sunday, a generation of youngsters in England that might struggle to even name the England XI will get to witness their own pioneers fight for a world crown. And if England do pull it off, they will truly be worthy winners.
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