England vs Australia.
It is one of the games in cricket and probably the end game for the loser of Friday’s fixture at the MCG in terms of winning the T20 World Cup.
England tumbled to defeat against Ireland in a rain-affected clash at the same venue on Wednesday with Jos Buttler’s side punished for being wayward with the ball and anaemic with the bat.
Hosts Australia, meanwhile, crashed to an 89-run loss against New Zealand in Sydney on Saturday, with their bowling attack marmalised for 200 before they were skittled for 111 in reply.
Both sides’ record is won one, lost one – England’s success coming against Afghanistan, Australia’s over Sri Lanka – and whoever succumbs to a second defeat will be on the brink.
Elimination would not be confirmed but it would leave the beaten side relying on other results to go their way.
‘England will take confidence from series win over Australia’
England’s Liam Livingstone says his side could not ask for a better game in which to “bounce back” from their lacklustre loss to Ireland. A crucial contest against their biggest rivals and a team they beat 2-0 in a pre-tournament bilateral series earlier this month as well as walloped by eight wickets during a demolition job in Dubai during last year’s T20 World Cup in the United Arab Emirates.
Livingstone said: “We know where we need to get better and we’ve got a massive challenge on Friday night. I’m sure everybody will be looking forward to that.
“I think it’s going to be a good game and certainly one everybody is going to be excited for. We’ll take confidence from the results we had against Australia in their own conditions.
“If ever there was a game to bounce back it’s Australia at the MCG. It’s obviously going to be cool if there’s more people in the ground [than the Ireland match]. Hopefully the game can live up to it.”
Those inside the MCG on a soggy Wednesday afternoon saw Ireland record a famous win – their third over England in all white-ball cricket and first in the T20 format – and Buttler’s boys flop.
With the ball, England took the final nine Ireland wickets for 54 runs. The problem was that in the opening 10 overs they served up a lot of dross – frequently wide and frequently short when full seemed the way to go in swinging conditions – as Ireland piled on 92-1.
Sky Sports Cricket’s Nasser Hussain hopes England show more nous against Australia, saying: “I thought they were very honest at the end of the Ireland game. Usually you get captains taking the positives but Jos was having none of that. He said ‘this must hurt because we weren’t very good’.
“Mark Wood was also excellent, saying that in the first 10 overs when Ireland got off to a flier England weren’t intense enough and that they didn’t bowl the right lines and lengths.
Hussain urges England to be adaptable
“The challenge for England is adapting to conditions and that’s what I think they didn’t do well flying in from Perth to Melbourne.
“I think they presumed they could bowl the same way they did against Afghanistan in Perth against Ireland at the MCG.
“But we have had rain here, it’s English-type conditions. I reckon you have to bowl a fuller length, bowl as if it were a Test match almost, challenge the top of off stump.
“And also react. If it is not like that, if it is a very flat MCG pitch, then react to that. Don’t just have the same plan every single time.
“See what’s in front of you. You have got people in that dressing room that have played a lot of cricket in Australia, some of the coaches are from Australia.”
One of those Australian-born coaches is head honcho Matthew Mott, who called England’s batting “timid” as they lurched to 29-3 in the powerplay and then 86-5 in the 14th over against Ireland before Moeen Ali’s cameo of 24 not out from 12 balls provided a spark prior to the match-ending rain shower.
Moeen came in at No 6, with Livingstone, whose unbeaten 29 from 21 balls got England over the line against Afghanistan after another limp team batting display, entering at No 7.
Livingstone would relish a move up the order – “I’m certainly not going to say no” – but it seems as if the current order will remain as is, even though Ben Stokes is yet to ignite at No 4.
Mott said of Stokes: “Ben hasn’t come off with the bat yet but his career would suggest at some point somebody is going to pay the price and hopefully that’s Australia. He’s a world-class player. You need match-winners and he’s one.”
Any England alterations would probably come in the pace attack, if two games in three days proves problematic or if Chris Woakes has bowled himself out of the line-up by shipping 41 runs from three errant overs against Ireland. Tymal Mills, David Willey and Chris Jordan are contenders to come in.
Australia skipper Finch not concerned over form
The way Australia skipper Aaron Finch batted against Sri Lanka, you cannot be sure that he would have punished those rank deliveries from Woakes with his timing eluding him as he laboured his way to 31 not out from 42 balls in Perth. A Test match knock in a T20.
Finch has brushed off fears over his form, calling that torturous innings an “anomaly” and insisting “that I still feel confident in my game, 100 per cent”. There may be a bit of bluster there with the 35-year-old’s strike-rate in T20Is this calendar year 117.23, down on his career record of 142.51.
Australia’s batting on the whole has been far from tip-top, in the thrashing at the hands of New Zealand, obviously, but also in the series defeat to England and even in Tuesday’s seven-wicket success over Sri Lanka with Finch’s men stuttering to 89-3 before Marcus Stoinis fired an 18-ball fifty as they completed a chase of 158 with 21 balls to spare.
But this is Australia. They know how to win big tournaments. They won this very tournament last year after rebounding from that mauling by England with four straight victories, capped by an eight-wicket triumph over New Zealand in the final.
Hussain added: “Both sides have been here before.
“In the 2019 50-over World Cup, England had to win every game after losing to Australia and Sri Lanka. They did, with Eoin Morgan lifting the trophy. Australia had to win every game in the T20 World Cup last year after being hammered by England and they did.
“It’s a format where you can go on a run and England need to put that terrible performance against Ireland behind them.
“For whoever loses, it’s not definitely over for them but it’s out of their hands and they are then hoping that Ireland or Afghanistan can pull off a surprise down the line.”
Watch England vs Australia live on Sky Sports Cricket on Friday. Build-up begins at 8.30am ahead of a 9am start at the Melbourne Cricket Ground.