England’s Eoin Morgan and Joe Root celebrate after their victory in the semi-final.—Reuters
England’s Eoin Morgan and Joe Root celebrate after their victory in the semi-final.—Reuters

BIRMINGHAM: England snuffed out Australia’s title defence and stormed into the Cricket World Cup final with a comprehensive eight-wicket victory over the five-time champions in the second semi-final of the tournament on Thursday.

Eoin Morgan’s men skittled out Australia for 223 before romping to their target in the 33rd over in a lop-sided battle between the hosts and the holders at Edgbaston.

Jason Roy hit a blistering 85 as England reached the victory target of 224 with 107 balls to spare after restricting Australia. Roy and Jonny Bairstow (34) made the chase look like a cakewalk while sharing their fourth successive hundred stand, before leaving it to Joe Root (49) and Morgan (45) to complete the formalities for the tournament hosts with consummate ease.

Both finalists have never won the tournament

England, the losing finalists in 1979, 1987 and 1992, will now face New Zealand, who have also yet to win the World Cup after finishing runners-up to Australia four years ago, in Sunday’s final at Lord’s — where new champions will be crowned — following the Black Caps’ surprise semi-final win over India on Wednesday.

England last made the final in 1992 when they lost to Pakistan at the Melbourne Cricket Ground.

Earlier, Aaron Finch’s decision to bat appeared to backfire with Chris Woakes and Jofra Archer blowing away the Australian top order.

Archer struck with his first delivery to dismiss Finch and later left Alex Carey with a bloodied chin which needed stitches.

By then, the setback had snowballed into a full-blown crisis for Australia.

Woakes (3-20) removed David Warner — Australia’s leading scorer in the tournament with 647 — for nine and bowled Peter Handscomb who was making his World Cup debut as replacement for the injured Usman Khawaja.

Archer oozed hostility at the other end, hitting a hopping Carey on the grill of his helmet and dislodging it from his head.

Carey braved the blow to join Steve Smith in a dogged bid to arrest the free-fall and Australia reached the 100-mark in the 25th over before their middle order caved in.

Adil Rashid claimed 3-54, including the wickets of Carey (46) and Marcus Stoinis, and Archer sent back Glenn Maxwell, who scored at a run-a-ball for his 22 before being deceived by a slower ball.

Smith was run out for 85 in the 48th over and Australia could not last their full quota of 50 overs.

Smith and Carey, who added 103 for the fourth wicket, scored more than half their team’s total and were among only four Australian batsmen who managed double-digit scores.

Their slim victory chances hinged on their ability to subject England to a similar top-order collapse but Roy and Bairstow batted with the kind of fearlessness which has been the hallmark of this England team.

Mitchell Starc, who made 29 with the bat, dismissed Bairstow and Pat Cummins denied Roy his century but the match had slipped through Australia’s fingers by then.

Roy, who missed three matches earlier in the tournament with a torn hamstring, was in particularly good form, hitting Starc and Nathan Lyon for sixes.

Australia were in desperate need of early wickets after suffering a top-order collapse on the way to being dismissed for 223, with the record five-time champions thankful for Steve Smith’s battling innings.

All three of England’s defeats in this tournament — including a 64-run league-stage loss to Australia — have come batting second but Roy and Bairstow showed few signs of nerves on Thursday.

Finch turned to Smith’s occasional leg-spin in a desperate bid to break the partnership.

Smith was booed by a large crowd, a reflection of the former Australia captain’s role in a ball-tampering scandal in South Africa that saw him banned for 12 months. But the jeers turned to cheers as Roy hit three huge straight sixes in as many balls to reach fourth consecutive 50 in the tournament.

Bairstow fell lbw to Starc, who in the process set a new record for most wickets at a single World Cup of 27. Roy was in sight of a hundred when he was given out caught behind down the leg-side by Carey off fast bowler Pat Cummins.

The batsman was visibly angry and had to be ushered away from the crease by square-leg umpire Marais Erasmus. England had earlier squandered their lone review.

Defeat meant Australia suffered their first loss in eight World Cup semi-finals.

Earlier, Woakes and Adil Rashid took three wickets apiece. Woakes struck twice early on at his Warwickshire home ground as Australia slumped to 14-3 after winning the toss.

Australia’s prolific opening pair of Warner and Finch, as well as Peter Handscomb, were all back in the pavilion by the seventh over.

Published in Dawn, July 12th, 2019