England captain Eoin Morgan is desperate to seize a once-in-a-generation chance and get the nation talking about cricket in Sunday’s World Cup final against New Zealand at Lord’s.
The tournament hosts put in a magnificent performance in the semi-final against Ashes rivals Australia, bowling their visitors out for 223 before sprinting to an eight-wicket victory with 107 balls to spare.
It was bold, brave and brilliant stuff from the world’s number one side and they will now take on the Black Caps, with both nations hoping to land the trophy for the first time. For New Zealand it is a chance to go one better than their runners-up finish in 2015, while England are appearing in the showpiece for the first time since 1992.
For England the opportunity stretches even further thanks to an agreement between rights holders Sky and Channel 4, which will see the national side returning to a traditional free-to-air platform for the first time since the 2005 Ashes.
“I think Sunday is not a day to shy away from, it’s a day to look forward to,” said Morgan.
“We have created the opportunity to play in a World Cup final. It sounds pretty cool and it feels pretty good.
“It’s the game I love so it’s great news that it’s on free-to-air. Particularly given the 2005 Ashes was, for me, sort of the day cricket became cool. Throughout the whole summer, the game was on the front and back page of every newspaper going around, everyone was talking about and it that is really good for the game.
“It is obviously a very exciting time for everybody, ourselves included.”
The viewing public will be in for a fine show if England can replicate the outstanding all-round performance they turned in at Edgbaston.
Their new-ball bowlers set the tone – Chris Woakes’ three for 20 earned him man-of-the-match honours and Jofra Archer set a new England record of 19 wickets at a single tournament – before a freewheeling display with the bat.
Jason Roy struck nine fours and five towering sixes in his fearless 85, while Jonny Bairstow (34), Joe Root (49no) and Morgan (45no) all batted with absolute conviction.
It was all a far cry from the lame departure in the group stages four years ago, an experience that could easily have sunk Morgan’s captaincy.
“If you had offered us the position to play in a final the day after we were knocked out of 2015 World Cup, I would have laughed at you,” he said with wry smile.
“As a team we have learned to enjoy ourselves, particularly days like this, even if they don’t go well.
“Everybody out there on the field and even in the changing room loved every ball that was bowled. We had a bit of a day out. They have earned a beer or a glass of wine, definitely.”
The only thing that would have improved England’s day would have been a deserved century for Roy, who was given caught behind despite getting nowhere near the ball in question from Pat Cummins.
He instantly called for a review but the process was quashed when umpire Kumar Dharmasena was reminded by Australia that Bairstow had already burned England’s DRS allocation.
Roy was apoplectic at his ill-fortune, reacting angrily enough to earn two demerit points and a 30% match fee fine in a post-match hearing.
He accepted the sanction, which takes him to the brink of a ban, but his captain was indisposed at the time.
“I didn’t see exactly what happened, I was on the toilet,” he said.
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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.
Australia were comfortably second best in an Ashes-flavoured knockout at Edgbaston, bowled out for 223 after winning the toss and then blown off the park as their hosts raced to an eight-wicket win inside 33 overs.
Jason Roy batted brilliantly for a fierce 85 and leg-spinner Adil Rashid scooped tournament-best figure of three for 54, but Finch had no doubt about the key passage of play.
Shortly after winning the toss he was dismissed for a golden duck, lbw to Archer’s first ball, then watched as Woakes accounted for David Warner and Peter Handscomb in a compelling opening burst that left the away side 14 for three.
Australia might have found stability in the form of a century stand between Steve Smith (85) and Alex Carey (46), but they never managed to recover their lost momentum.
“All in all we were totally outplayed to be honest, all throughout the day,” said a dejected Finch.
“But the damage was really done with the ball. Definitely in the first ten overs of the game. It was a bit of a frantic start, three-for in the powerplay.
“They’ve got bowlers that hit the seam and if there is anything in the wicket, they will certainly get it out of it. Chris Woakes is a world-class bowler, puts it in the right area time and time again, and Archer is getting better and better.”
The result made Finch the first Australian captain to taste defeat in the last four of a World Cup and denied him the chance to add a sixth title to his country’s record haul.
Yet when he took over as skipper of an off-form and directionless squad last autumn, merely reaching this stage seemed fanciful.
He was left balancing conflicting emotions of pride and regret.
“In terms of where we were 12 months ago, obviously I think we have made a huge amount of progress and I’m really proud of everyone involved for how much hard work they’ve put in and how far we have come,” he said.
“But at the same time we came here today to win a semi-final and get ourselves into a position to win another World Cup.
“So it was really disappointing how it ended, especially to put up probably one of our worst performances in the tournament.”