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Morgan restores control as England crush Australia to make World Cup final

Jo Harman by Jo Harman 5 minute read

Eoin Morgan’s clever on-field decision-making and calm influence off the field have been crucial to restoring control to this exciting, World Cup final-bound England side, writes Jo Harman.

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England’s brutalisation of Australia at Edgbaston confirmed what we knew, or thought we knew, at the start of this World Cup: that, when on-song, no one can live with Eoin Morgan’s team. They have too much power, too much depth, too much pace, too many matchwinners.

Of course it doesn’t mean England will necessarily win the thing. New Zealand have clung on like a limpet in this World Cup, refusing to yield in four arse-nippers to deservedly take their place in the final. Kane Williamson’s side will take some beating and are unlikely to be swept aside in the manner which Australia were, as the frailties that the reigning champions have been able to mask through much of this tournament were ruthlessly exposed. But today England played like champions in waiting.

England beat New Zealand by 119 runs in their final group match

England fans could have been forgiven a heart flutter when Morgan called incorrectly at the toss and Aaron Finch chose to bat. Four times they had chased in this World Cup, three times they had lost, the most recent of those the humbling 64-run defeat to Australia at Lord’s two weeks ago.

The manner of that loss, coupled with the collective brain-fade against Sri Lanka four days earlier, left England clinging on by their fingertips. Speaking before the toss, Trevor Bayliss described this as a “different team”, admitting the Sri Lankan defeat had caused a ripple in the changing room which manifested itself in that limp performance at Lord’s.

Morgan was unusually prickly with the press following those defeats, which was taken by some as further evidence that the pressure was beginning to take its toll on the World Cup favourites. More likely, Morgan was simply frustrated that England’s meticulous preparation over the last four years wasn’t coming to fruition when it really mattered.

In a pre-tournament interview with Wisden Cricket Monthly, Jason Roy, who is now a shoo-in for Ashes selection after another innings bursting with confidence and Pietersen-esque swagger, was asked whether his skipper ever loses his cool.

“Yeah, yeah, yeah,” said Roy with a grin. “There’ll be a par three where he misses it left and has a dirty slice into the bunker, then he gets a little bit fed up. Generally speaking, if he’s in control of something and he’s able to do something about it, then he’s very chilled out.”

Over the past three matches, Morgan has restored that control. Following the return to fitness of Roy and the adjustment of the bowling attack to incorporate Liam Plunkett at the expense of the second spinner, England have been pretty much faultless, beating the sides ranked Nos.2, 3 and 4 in the world by comfortable margins.

Joe Root celebrates as Eoin Morgan scores the winning runs to secure victory

Morgan was sparky and aggressive in the field against Australia, putting the squeeze on after exceptional new-ball spells from Chris Woakes (who was named Player of the Match for his 3-20) and Jofra Archer, and then attacking in the middle overs with raw pace and leg-spin when Steve Smith and Alex Carey threatened to take the score beyond 250.

Adil Rashid hasn’t been able to find the form in this tournament which has made him the leading ODI wicket-taker since the last World Cup, and a more conservative captain may have been tempted to give him a breather and bring in the generally more economical Moeen Ali. But Rashid’s performances over the last four years have been built on the confidence Morgan has shown in him, and the skipper has continued to show faith in his leg-spinner.

That faith was rewarded as Rashid, who had conceded 29 runs without taking a wicket from his first four overs, was kept in the attack, on a ground where spinners had averaged 93 in this World Cup, and delivered the wickets of Alex Carey and Marcus Stoinis in the space of five balls – the first caught in the deep, the latter completely undone by a trademark googly.

Rashid finished his spell with a third, Joe Root taking a smart catch at slip to dismiss Pat Cummins, and, after a difficult few weeks, will now head into Sunday’s final with his confidence renewed.

Rashid looked to be regaining his best form at Edgbaston

Morgan showed the same strength of conviction with the way he utilised Jofra Archer. After a thrilling opening burst of 6-0-16-1, which took the wicket of Finch for a golden duck and bloodied the face of Carey, Archer was brought back into the attack to try and remove Glenn Maxwell.

Two Archer overs ticked by without a breakthrough but rather than worrying about holding him back for the death, Morgan continued at full throttle, giving his kingpin quick a third. A perfectly executed knuckle ball, a new addition to Archer’s ever-growing repertoire, bamboozled Maxwell and effectively ended Australia’s hopes of posting an imposing total.

Archer, a key death-bowler for England in this tournament, had bowled his full allocation by the 39th over, but it didn’t matter. The back of Australia’s batting had been broken.

After Roy and Bairstow did what they do, posting a fourth hundred partnership on the bounce, it was fitting that Morgan finished the job, clubbing Jason Behrendorff over mid-on to take England through to their first World Cup final for 27 years.

This was a match that went to Morgan’s script, the perfect representation of the blueprint set out when he and Andrew Strauss sat down for crisis talks four years ago.

If England can summon another performance like this one, their wait for a first World Cup title will surely be over.

Jo Harman is magazine editor of Wisden Cricket Monthly

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