Australia will have to be wary of resurgent England

Australia will have to be wary of resurgent England

The force is with Australia, but on the evidence of the early form they have shown in this tournament, England will be no pushovers in the first semifinal at SuperSport Park on Friday.

There is something about major competitions that rouses the Aussies. Perhaps it is to do with their sense of occasion and history, perhaps it is because they have coveted so much success on the world stage that winning is almost second nature. It is this daunting proposition that will stare England, perennially affected by stage-fright, in the face on the morrow.

Not to mention the simple fact that, exactly ten days back, Ricky Ponting’s men completed a bruising 6-1 drubbing in England, who could be without Stuart Broad, nursing a buttock muscle tear, and an unwell Matt Prior.

Even minus influential figures Kevin Pietersen and Andrew Flintoff, England have held their own in this tournament, thanks to seamer-friendly conditions at the Wanderers and the friskiness Eoin Morgan brings to their batting. Andrew Strauss has encouraged his team to play their shots – ‘One-day cricket is a game of scoring runs’ – and Paul Collingwood has taken his captain’s exhortations to heart, which is why flair and England are no longer mutually exclusive.

Against an Australian side that looked unusually nervy in its last-ball win over Pakistan on Wednesday, England will need to be on top of their game from ball one. Their tentative push towards a modest target in a must-win game was a rare blip; Australia are usually masters at intimidation and front-running, especially in multiple-team competitions, and whilst England can pick up a few clues from what happened two days back, it will not count for much in practical terms.

Ricky Ponting and Mike Hussey have shown great touch in this competition. In the injury-enforced absence of vice-captain Michael Clarke, it was essential for the two experienced boys to step up to the plate, and the skipper and Mr Cricket have done precisely that. David Hussey, meanwhile, has been called up as Clarke’s replacement.

The return to his best of Brett Lee and Mitchell Johnson’s incisiveness have helped Australia tide over the unfortunate loss of Nathan Bracken, but on a surface that has tended to encourage the spinners, off-spinner Nathan Hauritz will have a key role to play. Graeme Swann’s presence – with leggie Adil Rashid in the wings -- gives England the edge in the spinning department, but collectively on a cricketing basis, and overwhelmingly in the psychological stakes, the advantage rests with Australia.