Cricket's oldest battle resumes in newest format
Sunday, May 16, Barbados
Start time 1130 (1530 GMT)
The Big Picture
Regardless of whether England emerge triumphant against Australia, the form team of the tournament, they have turned a corner in terms of public perception. In many ways, the tale of their shortcomings in ICC global events is less a matter of their failure to take home any trophies, but their failure to give themselves a chance to compete. On two occasions in the modern era of one-day cricket, they've found a formula that came close to ending the drought - namely, at the 1992 World Cup, when their greatest player, the ageing Ian Botham, was arguably their weakest link, and in the 2004 Champions Trophy, when Michael Vaughan's men were already building towards the following summer's Ashes.
In almost every other tournament of note they have been little short of a rabble, and that includes their previous forays in the World Twenty20, in South Africa in 2007, when they opened the batting with the bits-and-pieces Darren Maddy, and in 2009, when the Netherlands (including a certain Dirk Nannes) stunned them in the tournament curtain-raiser. At the third time of asking, however, England have hit upon a formula that deserves to succeed precisely because it doesn't see success as a birthright. Every player from 1 to 11 is up for a scrap, and against an Australian side that doesn't know when it's beaten, a scrap is precisely what they can expect.
It has taken the Australians five years to shed the view that Twenty20 is a format for fun. However, Michael Clarke's team is playing the game in the same serious, clinical and tunnel-visioned manner that has been so successful for them in Tests and ODIs over the past decade. Under Clarke's captaincy the side's worst result in 14 matches is the tie against New Zealand in February, which turned into a Super Over defeat.
Since then they have won six matches in a row, including the breath-taking semi-final triumph over Pakistan, in a record that is more suited to Ricky Ponting's all-conquering outfits in 50-over World Cups. Not only are they well balanced, with frightening bowlers and muscular batsmen, but they now expect to win everything. And the only thing that can motivate them more than capturing a trophy they have never held is to beat England in doing it.
Form guide (Most recent first)
Watch out for
Kevin Pietersen's hunger has returned with a vengeance. For 12 anxious months, his game has been racked by unfamiliar self-doubt, triggered in part by injury, and in part by the chastening loss of the England captaincy. Many wondered whether his focus would ever be trained quite as intensely back onto the pitch, especially with the prospect of fatherhood adding an extra dimension of distraction, but in the Caribbean he has been a revelation, with three thumping performances either side of his paternity dash back to England. And what is more, there's the additional incentive of payback, after his role in last summer's Ashes was limited to a walk-on.
Michael Clarke is the main man in the tactical stakes and has marshalled his team brilliantly throughout the tournament. His thinking has been so strong that he has been called the Mike Brearley of Twenty20 cricket, although the description is a kiss-punch compliment. Clarke is the slowest scorer of Australia's squad and is a gap-finder in a line-up of boundary clearers. So far his rotating-the-strike role hasn't been costly, although his 17 off 19 balls in the semi-final left Michael Hussey successfully chasing a miracle to beat Pakistan. With a tournament strike-rate of 74.17, England will be targeting him - without wanting to get him out.
Australia have only changed their team once during the tournament, when Ryan Harris came in for the injured Mitchell Johnson, so don't expect them to get fancy at such a crucial stage. A return to Barbados means some excitement for the pace trio of Johnson, Dirk Nannes and Shaun Tait, who have combined for 31 wickets in this campaign.
Australia (probable) 1 Shane Watson, 2 David Warner, 3 Brad Haddin (wk), 4 Michael Clarke (capt), 5 David Hussey, 6 Cameron White, 7 Michael Hussey, 8 Steven Smith, 9 Mitchell Johnson, 10 Dirk Nannes, 11 Shaun Tait.
No surprises anticipated in England's line-up, which has cultivated an air of solidity of which their 50-over team can only dream. With power-hitters throughout the top order, capable run-makers all the way to No. 10, and proper variety in their five-prong bowling attack, they've got the armoury to end their trophy drought.
England (probable) 1 Michael Lumb, 2 Craig Kieswetter (wk), 3 Kevin Pietersen, 4 Paul Collingwood (capt), 5 Eoin Morgan, 6 Luke Wright, 7 Tim Bresnan, 8 Graeme Swann, 9 Michael Yardy, 10 Stuart Broad, 11 Ryan Sidebottom.
Pitch and conditions
The Bridgetown surface has entered a timewarp in the course of the past fortnight. Long gone is the pudding on which West Indies racked up 750-plus in their Test against England last March, and in its place is a trampolinist's paradise that brings to mind the Marshalls and Garners of yesteryear. No venue suits the likes of Shaun Tait and Mitchell Johnson better, and yet, this is where England themselves will feel happiest. All of their batsmen prefer the ball coming onto the bat, and that - if nothing else - can be guaranteed in the coming contest.
- England and Australia have met in three completed Twenty20 internationals to date, including the second one contested, at the Rose Bowl in 2005. England, memorably, won that contest by 100 runs after reducing their opponents to 31 for 7. But, as Ricky Ponting might have put it, Australia didn't take the format seriously back then ...
- Only two players on either side remain from that match - Michael Clarke and Michael Hussey for Australia; Kevin Pietersen and Paul Collingwood for England.
- Since going out of the 2009 World Twenty20, Australia have won 10 of their 11 completed fixtures, with a Super Over defeat against New Zealand being their only setback. For England's part, their current run of four wins in a row is their hottest streak since the birth of the format
- Australia have fond memories of finals in Bridgetown - they beat Sri Lanka by 53 runs at the venue to lift the World Cup in 2007. But they fared less well in their only Twenty20 fixture in Barbados prior to this tournament. In 2008, they lost an 11-over thrash against West Indies, despite posting an imposing 97 for 3
"Michael Hussey is an absolute freak."
Michael Clarke sums up the sentiments of most cricket-watchers following that semi-final performance.
"Let's be honest, there aren't too many areas we can improve on."
Paul Collingwood is ready for whatever transpires in the final.