T20 World Cup: Old foes Australia, England start as equals

England's Jos Buttler (left) with teammate Jason Roy. — AFP
England's Jos Buttler (left) with teammate Jason Roy. — AFP

Mumbai - Two wins in two matches have put both teams in the forefront for a place in the knockouts

By Ayaz Memon

Published: Sat 30 Oct 2021, 12:10 AM

Opener David Warner’s return to form ensured an easy win for Australia over Sri Lanka, to fetch them two crucial points. It also imbues tonight’s contest against arch-rivals England with keener competitive edge. With Warner starting to pull his weight, the two teams start as equals.

For Warner, for a fairly long time considered among the best white-ball cricketers in the world, the past few months have been troubling. His form in the IPL waned to the extent that he was benched by Sunrisers Hyderabad, lost his captaincy too, and was in the doldrums when the World Cup started.

In Australia’s first match against South Africa, he did not trouble the scorers too much. A poor start — with Aaron Finch not contribution much either — made Australia look highly vulnerable though they huffed and puffed their way to victory. Seeking their maiden title, the star-studded Aussie team looked undercooked.

Warner’s stroke-filled half century, and a dashing first wicket partnership with Finch, against Sri Lanka seemed to transform the team from a bunch of pedestrian performers into a juggernaut. Of course, Warner, and Australia, were lucky that he was dropped very early in his innings, behind the wicket. But what was important was the stroke of luck was not squandered. Warner flourished, and Australia went on to win the match with plenty to spare.

Teams where the openers have been in good nick have been faring well in the World Cup. Pakistan with Babar Azam and Mohammad Rizwan, England with Jason Roy and Jos Buttler, for instance. On sluggish pitches, it is important for the powerplay to be negotiated well. On the other hand, teams with openers not providing good starts have been struggling. Like India, West Indies, South Africa and New Zealand.

With wickets in hand, batting teams have a better chance of setting or chasing targets. If two or three wickets are lost in the powerplay, it becomes excruciatingly difficult for teams to post or chase good totals. Sri Lanka’s fabulous hunt down of a largish Bangladesh score has been the exception so far.

Warner and Finch, when in good nick, can be a destructive opening pair. Much like Roy and Buttler, which is one of the reasons why this match promises to be so engaging. As a right-left combination, the Aussie pair might hold the edge, but only just. It would be fair to say that how these two pairs fare in the powerplay will have a significant impact on the outcome.

In the middle order, the Aussies move slightly ahead. Steve Smith, Glenn Maxwell, Mitchell Marsh, Marcus Stoinis and Matthew Wade, followed by big strikers Pat Cummins and Mitchell Starc looks more dangerous than Dawid Malan, Jonny Bairstow, Eoin Morgan, Liam Livingstone, Moeen Ali and Chris Jordan, more so because there has been no strong indication that Morgan’s dismal form has improved. But again, as mentioned, this advantage is minimal.

In the bowling too, the teams are evenly matched. Australia have big stars in Cummins, Starc and Josh Hazlewood, and Adam Zampa has been quite superb in the limited overs formats for a couple of years. But England have white-ball specialists in Tymal Mills, Jordan, with Adil Rashid and Moeen Ali providing the spin edge, so vital on these pitches.

Two wins in two matches have put both teams in the forefront for a place in the knockouts. Whichever side wins tonight is assured of a place in the last four; the losing side will remain vulnerable. Both captains and the players under them know this only too well. It promises to be a hard-fought, exciting contest.

Ayaz Memon is an Indian sports writer and commentator

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