So England have qualified for their first World Cup semi-final in 27 years and without doubt the most relieved people won’t necessarily be the players but more likely those who are in charge of running English cricket. After the various pronouncements after the 2015 World Cup and the change in emphasis from the red ball game to the white ball game, which many of us still fiercely disagree with, anything less than reaching the last four would have been disastrous and another sad indictment on the ECB. That they have managed to qualify for the knockout stages of their own home World Cup is a relief for all concerned or at least those who have access to Pay-TV anyway.
England went into this game knowing that the only way they could guarantee qualification was with victory and that the knives were sharpened in case they didn’t. They immediately had some fortune by winning the toss and electing to bat on what at first looked like a belter of a pitch, but one that became considerably slower and more two paced as the game went on. Roy and Bairstow once again showed their class at the top of the order by registering another century stand and scoring the bulk of the runs, with the former scoring a run a ball 60 and the latter hitting another ton before falling for 106. I can’t emphasize enough how important the return of Jason Roy has been to the team and not just the fact that he has replaced James Vince. Roy and Bairstow complement each other perfectly with the former often hitting his straps straight away to put the opposition under pressure, which then allows Bairstow to take his time at the start of the innings and then accelerate once he has got the feel for the pitch.
The rest of the side then faltered somewhat on a pitch that became more difficult to score on and all of a sudden, a forecasted score of 350+ became a bit of a slog. The finally reached 305-8 at the end of the 50 overs thanks to some inventive hitting from both Plunkett and the ever-maligned Rashid and there would have been more than one or two nervous England fans biting their fingernails during the interval. Thankfully any cause for alarm was quickly extinguished during the early part of the New Zealand chase.
New Zealand knew that to chase this score down they needed to finally have a decent opening stand rather than relying on Williamson and others to dig them out of a hole, this though, was exactly what they didn’t get with Nicholls getting a rough LBW decision, that he chose not to review, from the ever hapless S. Ravi. Guptill who also looked pretty out of touch this tournament quickly came and went, leaving Williamson and Taylor as the last vestiges of hope for the New Zealand team. Both these batsmen looked in decent touch and having weathered the early England storm, were hoping to kick on, before they were both run out in very different fashions. Williamson was incredibly unlucky to see a return drive from Taylor clip the fingernails of Mark Wood and cannon onto his stumps when he was out of his ground, whereas Taylor had a complete brain fade and took on Rashid arm for a run that wasn’t there and found himself short of his crease. From there it was a case of when rather than if, even with a battling half century from Tom Latham, and New Zealand quickly subsided to 186 all out. I doubt England were expecting as comfortable a victory as they got when they turned up to the Riverside this morning, but some good all-round performances alongside getting the best of conditions, meant they got just that.
So England officially qualify for the World Cup semi-finals and another trip to Edgbaston and unless something seriously strange happens in the Pakistan vs. Bangladesh game (and I mean ICC investigating strange), New Zealand will face the first placed side at Old Trafford. It is likely that the England will come across their favourite nemesis India once again, whilst New Zealand face their antipodean counterparts Australia, though a loss for Australia against the Proteas and a resounding victory for India vs. Sri Lanka could mean a switch at the top of the table.
It will be interesting to see how the media react to this victory and whether they are going to pronounce them a saviours already. For me, I still think they are outsiders to win the World Cup after India and Australia who have looked to be consistently stronger. This side still isn’t playing at its peak and is far too heavily reliant on Roy and Bairstow at the top of the order. There are definite concerns about Buttler’s form (though he might well make me eat my words here) as well as Rashid’s from with the ball and Morgan’s habit of going missing in the big games. I hope they remember that reaching the semi-finals was an absolute bare minimum and that England have had some luck reaching them. That being said, I won’t be surprised if I read an article from Shiny Toy or the like proclaiming them to the be the best ever One Day team, it comes with the territory especially from known idiots like Vaughan who will say anything then happily contradict himself the next day, to try and stay in the limelight. It certainly will be an interesting few days in the build-up to the semi-finals for the small majority who have access to the games at least.
As for tomorrow, we have ourselves another dead-rubber with Afghanistan playing the West Indies for nothing else than pride. Will we see another decent game like we saw on Monday or will either or both of the teams be mentally checked out and ready to head to the airport? And yes, I’m looking at you West Indies!
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