England get a surprise boost
On the face of it, Bangladesh's shock victory over the World No. 1s, South Africa, in Guyana was the best possible result, both for the World Cup as a whole, and for England in particular. Suddenly, from a point of no return, England have been hauled back from the brink. Sunday's game against Australia is no longer their make-or-break moment in a disappointing winter, but just another encounter - their 14th, in fact, since hostilities resumed at Jaipur in October.
Maybe that's not so ideal after all for England. After pumping themselves up for their trip to last-chance saloon - and following hard on the heels of their agonising two-run loss against Sri Lanka on Wednesday - to now have an inkling at the back of their minds that there could be another way out could be self-defeating. It was, after all, the knowledge that there was no other way to go that galvanised the side and set them up for their surprise CB Series win in Australia in February.
Certainly, all the pre-match talk in the England camp was of Eve-of-St-Crispin's-Day proportions. "This will be the ultimate buzz," Paul Collingwood said. "To play them in the World Cup, in a must-win game, this is what cricket is all about.
"We've got a lot of belief. We are excited to go out there and put the Aussies under pressure. Our performances now, we are not that far away. We are gradually getting closer to a perfect game. We just need to kick on as a batting unit and get those big scores like we did against Australia, get those hundreds. That's what you need to do against these better sides."
That's not something that England have made a habit of lately. Aside from Collingwood, only Ed Joyce has reached three figures in one-dayers this year. After a barren patch of form, Joyce looks set to miss out of this crunch tie in favour of Andrew Strauss.
"Strauss has done fantastically well since he hasn't been in the side," Collingwood said. "He has managed to get a bit of a bigger bat so he says he is hitting the ball a little bit harder, and a little bit further." The comment was made partially in jest, although it doesn't disguise the fact that - no matter who is chosen to partner Michael Vaughan - England's top three lacks the sort of oomph that sets the big teams apart in this tournament.
"We feel if we concentrate on what we are doing, it doesn't matter who we are playing, we will win the game," said Glenn McGrath, who is determined to make the encounter the last against England of his illustrious career. "We probably had one eye on the World Cup at that stage," McGrath said as he explained his team's loss in the CB Series, "but now we are here, focused on this, we've played some decent cricket and no team has got close to us."
It's true as well. Australia have played five matches at this tournament, and nobody has come closer than the South Africans in Basseterre, who started their run-chase brightly but were ultimately thumped by 83 runs. That in itself has created one or two slight problems.
The middle order duo of Michael Hussey and Andrew Symonds, not to mention the tail, have been desperately short of batting match practice, while a bowling attack that twice lost to New Zealand in February despite defending more than 330 runs has yet to be put under pressure. As South Africa proved against Bangladesh, no side is immune to a bad day at the office.
If England are to win, however, then a big performance is needed from the two men in whom so much of their momentum is invested. Though Vaughan said after the Sri Lanka defeat that he would always buy a platform of 102 for 2 after 25 overs, unless Kevin Pietersen and Andrew Flintoff are in a mood to cash in, it is a tactic that is fraught with pitfalls. Though Pietersen looked good for his 58 on Wednesday, the form of Flintoff is a cause for much concern.
"I've always said I consider myself as a batsman who bowls, so I'd better start scoring some runs pretty damn quick," said Flintoff, who has not made a one-day half-century for 11 innings. "I don't know why I'm not scoring many runs, to be honest. Every time I try to hit the ball, it doesn't go anywhere, but hopefully I'm just 20 or 30 minutes at the crease or a good net away from kick-starting my batting."
England are adamant that Flintoff will be given a free rein to keep playing in his own way. "The last thing I want Freddie to do is to suddenly go into his shell and start playing defensively," Vaughan said. "I want him as an instinctive batter taking the opposition on because I think when he does that he's playing his best cricket.
"He's the kind of guy that sometimes when he gets out, it looks ugly. But I've seen him clear the guy many times before and got a four and he's away." Circumstances have dictated that the end is not so nigh as it might have seemed before today, but England will need to match their intensity against Sri Lanka then raise it an extra notch if they are going to turn Easter Sunday into their own private resurrection party.
Australia (probable) 1 Adam Gilchrist (wk), 2 Matthew Hayden, 3 Ricky Ponting (capt), 4 Michael Clarke, 5 Brad Hodge, 6 Michael Hussey, 7 Andrew Symonds, 8 Brad Hogg, 9 Nathan Bracken, 10 Shaun Tait, 11 Glenn McGrath.
England (probable) 1 Andrew Strauss, 2 Michael Vaughan (capt), 3 Ian Bell, 4 Kevin Pietersen, 5 Paul Collingwood, 6 Andrew Flintoff, 7 Ravi Bopara, 8 Paul Nixon (wk), 9 Sajid Mahmood, 10 James Anderson, 11 Monty Panesar.
Andrew Miller is UK editor of Cricinfo