Australia Englanded themselves in a Cricket World Cup semifinal, and it was glorious

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Australia are the Cricket World Cup’s final boss. They don’t always win — they’ve triumphed in a mere four of the last five tournaments — but they have made the final more often than not, and are particularly fearsome in the semifinals. Their record there, before Thursday, was six appearances with six wins. They’d managed to reach every single final since 1992 except for 2011, when India hosted. Australia are a frighteningly competent cricket team.

England are not, in general, a frighteningly competent cricket team. After relative success in the early years of the competition (this being England, that success included zero trophies), since the mid-90s, they’ve produced a cascade of embarrassment. This culminated in the 2015 tournament, when they failed to beat anyone except Scotland and Afghanistan and were eliminated in the group stages.

So when England faced Australia with a place in the 2019 final at stake, despite being the host nation it’s fair to say history was not on their side. If there’s a national tradition associated with English cricket, it threads the needle between comical underperformance and just being flat-out bad. Australia, meanwhile, are cool, calm and collected. They eat, and have eaten, Englands for breakfast. When these two sides met in the group stages, the Aussies won so heavily that Eoin Morgan’s team looked at real risk of spiraling out of the tournament entirely.

Australia won the toss and batted first, expecting England to have a difficult time in the run chase. Plot twist: England did not have a difficult time in the run chase, because Australia promptly and implausibly blew themselves up. Aussie captain Aaron Finch contrived to both get out on the first ball he faced and use up Australia’s precious umpire review. The rot continued with an Englandesque top order collapse; with seven of their 50 overs done the visitors had scored 15 runs for the loss of three wickets*.

*I recognise that not everyone reading is familiar with cricket terminology. In one-day cricket, both teams are given 50 overs to score as many runs as possible without suffering more than ten outs, with six balls bowled per over. A decent score hovers around 290, or a little less than six runs per over. 15 from seven with three outs is a disaster.

After this initial burst of Englanding, Australia patched themselves up, with Alex Carey battling through a nasty blow to the head to help drag his team into a slightly less calamitous position. But because Australia were England for the day, this was an example of Heroism in Defeat, because all he managed to do was slightly postpone the inevitable. Out-of-form spinner Adil Rashid made an entrance, got Carey caught playing an over-ambitious shot to deep midwicket and then cleaned up Marcus Stoinis LBW* for good measure. The rest was an inevitability. Australia hobbled their way to 223 runs, finally losing their tenth wicket after 49 overs.

*Leg Before Wicket. If you don’t know what that means it’s probably more fun as a mysterious collection of syllables.

223 is not a difficult chase, but it’s not an entirely trivial one either. Australia had produced an England of a performance, but if any team could better them in that regard, it’s England themselves, the experts eternal in snatching hilarious defeat from the sweet jaws of victory. Was it likely that the hosts would end up all out for 115? No. Was it inevitable anyway? If you’ve been following this team for more than a few years …

But while Australia were dressing up as England the reverse seems to have been happening, because instead of falling on their faces as would have been traditional, England instead beat the absolute snot out of their opponents. Driven by Jason Roy’s majestic innings, they chased down 223 with more than 17 overs to spare for the loss of a mere two wickets. There was an England moment in there, with Roy dismissed to an imaginary catch which was un-reviewable thanks to a silly decision by Jonny Bairstow ten minutes prior. But that was a rogue eddy in the semifinal pleasure cruise, with Joe Root and Morgan clobbering their way to 226 runs without breaking much of a sweat.

Why am I writing all this? To be honest, mostly because SB Nation’s James Dator is proud Australian, and as an Englishman I wanted to troll him. Opportunities like this come around about once a generation. But I’m also writing this because this set of World Cup semifinals has been genuinely fascinating. New Zealand beat India earlier in a back-and-forth match which featured an even more hilarious top order collapse than Australia’s and a stunning throw from Martin Guptill to break M.S. Dhoni’s resistance at the death. England’s mauling of Australia was both beautiful and unprecedented. All of that has set us up for a potentially brilliant final, with both New Zealand and the hosts looking to win it for the first time.

So if you’re an American looking for an excuse for bleary-eyed, early-morning sports watching on July 14th, give the final a shot. History says you’ll see England revert to type and embarrass themselves in front of the home support at Lords. If that’s not entertainment, I don’t know what is. And if nothing else, New Zealand’s icy-veined batting terminator Kane Williamson is always worth a watch.

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