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Player of the Match
Player of the Match

England hope to keep ambition alive in historic rematch with old enemy

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Hodge: Australia only need a little bit more firepower from the middle order (3:03)

Brad Hodge previews Australia's semi-final against England, and says Steven Smith moving to No.3 in place of the injured Khawaja might work in Australia's favour (3:03)

Big picture

Big match. Grudge match. Rematch. Bogey team, bogey ground. No. 1 in the world, No. 1 in World Cups. At the pointy end of the tournament, a game with no shortage of historical needle. England versus Australia, no Ashes on the line but arguably something more significant, at least from the perspective of the hosts. Six weeks of tension building, dark clouds gathering once again… all about to be released in a thunderclap?

Okay, so things may not play out so dramatically, but the first World Cup knockout encounter between these two sides in more than 30 years has the potential to produce a seismic collision when the players take the field at Edgbaston - perhaps the most raucous of English grounds (that's assuming some England fans have managed to get hold of tickets). We can but hope for the sort of game that will make a sometimes-sodden tournament instantly memorable.

ALSO READ: Ben Stokes fired up for 'redemption' shot in semi-final against Australia

In the blue corner, England's wannabe history-makers, chasing that elusive global 50-over title. Their World Cup almost took a queasy turn towards familiar farce after they were beaten by Australia at Lord's during the group stage; required to win their next two games to hold off a resurgent Pakistan, England took a glimpse into the abyss, gritted their teeth and got the job done. Accomplished performances against India and New Zealand (aided, perhaps, by the coin toss) saw them through with renewed conviction that this can indeed be their year.

Standing in England's way, the country that sets the green-and-gold standard in World Cup competition. Australia know what it takes to win, just as they know England are still trying to work it out. After 18 months of ODI turmoil, the old game-face has returned. Australia haven't lost to England in the World Cup since 1992; England haven't won a knockout match in just as long.

There again, if it is omens you're after, how about this one: England have been victorious in their last ten internationals at Edgbaston, going back to 2014. Moreover, Australia haven't won here since 2001 - although they do have the 1999 semi-final tie to cling to for comfort. England beat them in Birmingham at the 2017 Champions Trophy; they mugged them by a mere two runs during the 2005 Ashes; and even managed to take down Warne and McGrath there in 1997.

It was also Edgbaston - and the return of Jason Roy - that pepped up England after things had threatened to go awry. If another true surface awaits, Roy and Jonny Bairstow will doubtless emerge wielding the cudgels again. With Liam Plunkett restating his worth over the last couple of games, England seem content to have moved away from the two-spinner strategy that had previously served them so well.

Australia have gradually found their preferred formula, too, though there will be at least one enforced change to the batting, after both Usman Khawaja and Shaun Marsh suffered tournament-ending injuries in the space of a few days. Both teams would surely prefer to bat first, with Australia's opening partnership similarly integral to their fortunes so far. Will it all depend on the call of heads or tails?

The possibility of more iffy weather might reduce some of the bat-first advantage that has become more and more apparent (as should a fresh pitch). In which case it could come down to which of the superfast men - Mitchell Starc, Jofra Archer and Mark Wood are among the quickest on show - has the better day, as well as England's ability to combat a marked weakness against left-arm seam bowling. Adil Rashid has struggled for form, but Australia remain his favourite opponents in ODIs; Nathan Lyon has only played three World Cup matches but never needs extra motivation against England.

Perhaps it will come down to the captains. Eoin Morgan has occasionally appeared tetchy as his team attempt to make good on four years of promise while dealing with the expectation and pressure of the ECB staking the house on this World Cup. He copped plenty for how he was bounced out by Starc at Lord's, too. Meanwhile, Aaron Finch has been prolific with the bat and at ease with the demands of leadership. Finch is also a World Cup winner. Only victory against the old enemy on Thursday will allow Morgan and his players to keep that ambition alive.

Form guide

England WWLLW (last five completed matches, most recent first)
Australia LWWWW

In the spotlight

Ben Stokes has been perhaps the standout middle-order batsman of the tournament, as well as quietly doing his bit with the ball and pulling off the usual quotidian brilliance in the field. He was the man who managed to drag England back into the contest between these sides at Lord's, first with economy and a wicket, then his sinew-straining 89 - only to be torpedoed by Starc just when it seemed he might bring home the egg-and-bacon. If things get sticky again, then Morgan will doubtless look to Stokes to light England's fire.

Whether Edgbaston stays off the boos or not, Steven Smith will be hoping to make himself centre of attention for cricketing reasons. He's yet to locate that famous Smithian groove at this tournament, when the degree to which his limbs seem out of sync is diametrically opposed to the runs they are able to harvest. He has three half-centuries to go with a mortal average of 32.66 and was dismissed attempting an agricultural hoick against England a fortnight ago. Maybe the absence of Usman Khawaja and a return to No. 3 will get the cogs whirring again.

Team news

England seem likely to stick with the men who have taken them through two crunch matches in a row, meaning no place for Moeen Ali.

England (probable): 1 Jason Roy, 2 Jonny Bairstow, 3 Joe Root, 4 Eoin Morgan (capt), 5 Ben Stokes, 6 Jos Buttler (wk), 7 Chris Woakes, 8 Liam Plunkett, 9 Adil Rashid, 10 Jofra Archer, 11 Mark Wood

Justin Langer has already confirmed that Peter Handscomb will make his World Cup debut, most likely coming into the side at No. 4 after the hamstring injury suffered by Khawaja in Australia's last game. Marcus Stoinis was also a doubt but seems set to be passed fit, helping to maintain the balance of a side with only four frontline bowlers. There was just a suggestion starting to bubble up that Glenn Maxwell could be under pressure for his place with Matthew Wade looming now that he has been officially added to the squad.

Australia (probable): 1 Aaron Finch (capt), 2 David Warner, 3 Steven Smith, 4 Peter Handscomb, 5 Marcus Stoinis, 6 Glenn Maxwell, 7 Alex Carey (wk), 8 Pat Cummins, 9 Mitchell Starc, 10 Nathan Lyon, 11 Jason Behrendorff

Pitch and conditions

The pitch is two across from the one on which the England-India game was played, so the shorter boundary is a bit longer. The grass on this pitch will be fractionally shorter than it was for that game and spin, again, isn't expected to play a big role. The weather could play a part as there's a chance of rain on Thursday.

Strategy punt

  • Finch has had a productive World Cup - and his century set up Australia's victory at Lord's - but there may be an area to exploit if he survives the early new-ball overs. Imran Tahir nabbed him early at Old Trafford to continue his successful record against Finch, and it could be worth giving Rashid an early bowl. Rashid has twice removed Finch in the first 20 balls he has faced.

  • Things have gone a bit quiet for Pat Cummins in this tournament, with two wickets in his last four matches, but Finch could be glad he has him up his sleeve for Joe Root, who is England's leading run-scorer. He has removed Root three times in five innings with Root striking at just 55 against him.

Stats and trivia

  • David Warner needs 19 runs to reach 5000 in ODIs; Mitchell Starc needs two wickets to reach 50 in World Cups

  • Jason Roy has scored three of his nine ODI hundreds against Australia

Quotes

"We know how they are going to play, they know how we are going to play. We have played each other a lot over the last couple of years, so it will be whoever holds their nerves, whoever takes them half-chances, whoever starts off the game really well in the first ten overs, whether it is with bat or ball, it will be so important for either side."
Aaron Finch, Australia's captain, expects few surprises from their opponents on Thursday

"The support we have had throughout the tournament has been unbelievable and certainly something I have never experienced in my life. The amount of good faith and goodwill going around is fantastic, so we sense the support that's with us, but also the opportunity as well."
Eoin Morgan, England's captain, hopes to reward the support that his team has received throughout the campaign.

England 2nd innings Partnerships

WktRunsPlayers
1st124JM BairstowJJ Roy
2nd23JJ RoyJE Root
3rd79EJG MorganJE Root