As the World Cup staggers into its closing 20 days, it can be possible to lose perspective on the past four years. England, thanks to their loss by Sri Lanka and injury to Jason Roy – that almost certainly rules him out of the Australia clash – are in crisis, criticized by the press and now weighed down by the expectation that come global tournaments, they consistently stuff it up. That’s the conventional view of this week, anyway. At the same time, Australia are growing in strength, getting the wins they need without quite looking like they have put it all together – something, probably, that will only happen when it matters most.
But away from the easy assumptions of the week is a bigger, more complex story. England, having been more or less laughed out of the 2015 World Cup due to their reversing approach and early elimination, retooled and re-branded with such success that they have been viewed as tournament favorites for at least the past two years. Australia, meanwhile, were the team in crisis for most of the past 12 months, due to the Newlands scandal and bans to Steven Smith and David Warner. Certainly Australia’s coach Justin Langer had no reason to think his men might be in danger of getting satisfied given their experiences leading into this competition.
However, the major question is whether or not Australia now have a team that will match-up effectively against an England team who, for all their former success, need to keep it together in the here and now. A warm-up game in Southampton, won by Australia, provided some information of use. “We’ll take a few match-ups [from the warm-up game],” Langer said. “The beauty of the World Cup is we get to watch every game and we’ve got lots of eyes on them, lots of cricket expertise and experience in our group. We get good ideas as they’ll be doing against us, so yeah whether it’s in the practice games or the games we’ve been watching or the last four years’ footage and data we’ve got on England, it all adds up.”
A remarkable strength of Australia under Langer has been their ability to play a brand of cricket suited to most opponents, with adjustments made for each. This all comes back to Langer’s very pugilistic understanding of cricket “combat”. At Lord’s, both England and Australia will get a strong indicator of how well their fighting feet are moving around the ring with the world title bout entering its final, definitive rounds. “This tournament is going to be about who can hold their nerve in the big moments,” Langer said. “We have got to concentrate on how we hold our nerve in the big moments. There are going to be plenty of them in the next three games and hopefully the semi-final. I have said for 6-8 months, when it comes to a World Cup there is a lot of talk about statistics, but it comes down to match play and we have to play England on Tuesday better than they play us.