It’s Australia versus England again. The traditional rivals face-off at SuperSport Park here on Friday in the first semifinal of the ICC Champions Trophy.
Ricky Ponting’s men will enter the duel as the favourite — Australia drubbed England 6-1 in an ODI series that followed the Ashes — but England has been a rejuvenated side in the competition.
Interestingly, the last ODI between the two sides — on a pitch assisting spin — was won by England with off-spinner Graeme Swann scalping five. The wearing surface at Centurion could encourage spin.
Andrew Strauss’s men have fitness concerns though. Key all-rounder Stuart Broad is a doubtful starter with a suspected torn buttock muscle. The tall bowler has gone for runs in the tournament but has also picked up a bagful of wickets with his high-arm action, lift and deviation.
Prior has recovered
Wicket-keeper batsman Matthew Prior, however, appears to have recovered well from a viral fever. If Prior still misses out, Eoin Morgan could don the big gloves again to lend the side balance although England as a regular ’keeper, Steven Davies, in the stand-by list.
Australia will not underestimate England; particularly after the side survived a scare against Pakistan on a sluggish surface where run-making was hard.
England would look closely at Wednesday’s dramatic Group ‘A’ game. It was spin and reverse swing that troubled the Aussies as they stumbled on the chase before a last-gasp win.
Anderson has to fire
England will need its pace spearhead James Anderson to fire. The paceman has been bowling with remarkable control. He is lively, bowls a compelling line, and is a genuine mover of the ball; his toe-crushers have been on target. Crucially, Anderson can reverse the ball with precision.
England will need left-arm paceman Ryan Sidebottom to maintain the pressure from the other end. If Broad does not recover, England might field leg-spinning all-rounder Adil Rashid.
The reverse swing achieved by the Pakistani paceman was surprising since the ball has to be changed in the last phase of the innings.
Perhaps, Pakistan got the right ball, one that reversed appreciably. The dry surface at SuperSport Park could be another factor in the ball swinging the other way.
Brett Lee could influence the game for Australia in these conditions. He too can bend the ball back tellingly.
Australia is bound to miss Michael Clarke, particularly in the conditions at Centurion. He is a wristy player, who can work the ball into the empty spaces. David Hussey has been added to the squad as Clarke’s replacement.
For England, opener Joe Denly has been short of runs. The side would seek a sizable innings from skipper Andrew Strauss who has been a calming influence on the side.
Paul Collingwood — this fighter has taken calculated risks at the crease to unsettle the bowling — and the free-stroking Owais Shah waded into the South African attack at Centurion. And talented southpaw Morgan dismissed the bowling ruthlessly in the death overs. That was an innings where England did not ponder around in the middle overs; Collingwood and Shah actually raised the tempo.
The Australian pace attack of Lee, left-armer Mitchell Johnson and Peter Siddle along with Nathan Hauritz’s steady off-spin could prove a much tougher proposition though.
The Australian batting — apart from the game against India — has not quite been consistent in the competition. Johnson’s stroke-play rescued the team against the West Indies and then the Aussies almost lost their way against Pakistan.
The left-handed Michael Hussey is batting with balance and timing though. And skipper Ponting is a man for the big occasion.
The side winning the toss is likely to bat. Chasing under the lights in a huge game can be demanding in itself. The pitch too could play tricks in the second half of the match.
The teams (from):
Australia: R. Ponting (captain), S. Watson, T. Paine, M. Hussey, C. Ferguson, C. White, J. Hopes, M. Johnson, B. Lee, N. Hauritz, P. Siddle, D. Hussey, B. Hilfenhaus, D. Bollinger and A. Voges.
England: A. Strauss (captain), J. Denly, O. Shah, P. Collingwood, E. Morgan, M. Prior, S. Broad, L. Wright, G. Swann, J. Anderson, R. Sidebottom, A. Rashid, T. Bresnan, R. Bopara and S. Davies.
Match starts at 6 p.m. IST.