Expectations and deepest fears were both met almost exactly on the World Cup’s opening day in Melbourne. Australia, the hosts and champions, defeated England, one of the outsiders, by 111 runs.
It was a hopelessly one-sided contest which augurs badly for the tournament as a competitive spectacle but seemed to offer early confirmation that there are two distinct camps comprising the very good indeed and the extremely moderate.
There was never a realistic hope that England could successfully pursue the target of 343 set by Australia but to be bowled out for 231 in 41.5 overs, with the match effectively done long before was profoundly disheartening. Australia batted better, bowled better and fielded better than England. They are better.
The two most prominent individual performances of the match came from Aaron Finch, who scored 135 from 128 balls opening Australia’s innings, and Mitchell Marsh, who took 5 for 33 in dismantling his opponents’ top and middle order.
There was one England player in sight, James Taylor, who made a brisk, always forlorn 98 not out after being demoted to number six. He was left stranded in peculiar circumstances after being given out lbw, only to be reprieved on review. Unfortunately he then found that his partner Jimmy Anderson had been run out as the pair tried to scramble a leg bye. Confusion reigned. But the result was crystal clear.
At one point, England seemed to be in the match, in the tournament, when they had Australia at 70-3, a position which eminently justified the decision to field on winning the toss. But after that Australia went inexorably, irrepressibly on, led by Finch who was given valuable support by the captain, George Bailey.
They shared a fourth wicket partnership of 146 from 156 balls which was no more than the most solid of platforms for the bravura hitting which followed. Australia scored 105 from the last ten overs, 61 from the last five.
Perhaps the die was cast in the first over when a single ball seemed to encapsulate the present differences between these sides. Finch clipped Jimmy Anderson hard and high to square leg where Chris Woakes reacted a fraction too slowly for the ball to burst through his hands. It was a chance that should have been taken and for which England paid the full price.
Although Australia raced away, Stuart Broad’s two wickets in two balls in the eighth over, bowling David Warner with one that swung through a leg side forcing stroke and having Shane Watson caught behind, impeded their progress. When Chris Woakes’s in swing deceived Steve Smith, England had an opportunity. Not for long.
Finch was always busy, Bailey cussed in ensuring any decline was arrested. Their efforts opened the way for Glenn Maxwell who did much as he liked in swatting, swishing, driving, and slogging his way to 66 from 40 balls. The innings perversely ended with a hat-trick for Steve Finn, almost meaningless.
England, who missed too many half chances, had to start well. They started badly. Moeen Ali was beaten for pace by Mitchell Starc and miscued a pull to mid-on.
But it was another Mitchell, not Johnson either, who inflicted the terminal damage. Marsh, son of the former Australian batsman and coach, Geoff, was accurate and deceptively sharp.
Gary Ballance, an unexpected choice in the side in place of Ravi Bopara, drove him to mid-on, Ian Bell, looking in good order, pulled him to mid-wicket and next ball Joe Root top edged a pull. Eoin Morgan, already beleaguered as captain, was out for a duck, misjudging a pull shot which came off the toe of the bat and the most outstanding of several splendid catches was taken by Steve Smith, who dived instinctively to his left to take a full-blooded drive from Jos Buttler.
There was some belated resistance from Taylor and Chris Woakes but the cause was long since lost. Taylor was dropped twice to show that Australia were human but all the frailties that counted belonged to England.Reuse content