Throughout the 2019 World Cup, the focus on England has been almost entirely on its batting. The powerhouses of the past four years who turned 350 into a par score; who made chasing an art more reliable than setting targets; who blaze in the same style all the way from Jonny Bairstow at the top to Liam Plunkett at the bottom.
But as England sent Australia flaming out of the tournament in Birmingham, it was the local bowlers who brought the fire. Right from the top, this was England bowling with serious heat.
Up until this point, things were trending a certain way. Australia had never lost a World Cup semi-final, making it to the final match seven times for five trophies. England has an equally rich history of embarrassing mishaps in major tournaments.
Australia won the toss at Edgbaston and batted, and the teams that have set targets in this tournament have tended to win. England had lost its chasing mojo in the past few weeks, and got back on a winning streak by defending totals. So everything was set for a big Australian score and all the pressure it would bring.
Enter Jofra Archer and Chris Woakes. Archer has been the source of such excitement in the last few months, the Barbadian-born quick who glides to the crease and delivers menacing pace in the most casually fluid style.
Aaron Finch has made 507 runs in this tournament, but has always been vulnerable early around his front pad. Archer blew it off with his first ball.
Woakes had put in a crazy opening spell to derail India’s chase at the same venue a couple of weeks earlier, starting with three maidens off the top of the innings. This time he picked up 2-16 off his first six, extracting serious bounce to draw an edge even as a flailing David Warner tried to pull away, then swinging through Peter Handscomb’s stumps via the inside edge.
Australia has lost its top order for not much several times in the tournament, but 3-14 here was asking for one recovery too many. If there was any doubt about England’s supremacy, Archer sealed it to close out the eighth over.
Archer has a range of slower balls, but his full-pace bouncer comes through with vicious spring. South Africa learned that to its detriment when it cost the Proteas three wickets and a concussion in their opening match, playing a big part in their campaign faltering before it really began.
In the semi-final, Australian wicketkeeper Alex Carey had been elevated to bat at number five, and had already driven a full ball past the bowler for three. Archer responded by going short. Carey was only trying to defend off the back foot, but the ball rose through the gap beneath his bent top elbow, crashing into his jaw.
While Carey got patched up and carried on, the situation of the game was clear: Australia was literally and figuratively on the back foot, doing its best to survive.
Which is what Carey did with Steve Smith for another 21 overs, adding 103, but the slow start required to survive the opening barrage meant it was always well behind the rate.
Leg-spinner Adil Rashid eventually tempted Carey to hole out for 46, then sped straight through Marcus Stoinis’s defences for a second-ball duck. But Glenn Maxwell began hitting Rashid to the boundary with ease, while Smith was ticking along all the time.
At that point it was Archer’s turn again. Maxwell, as teams know, can take them apart in four or five overs. Fast short bowling has been used against him in the last few weeks as he’s been unable to resist playing the hook shot, dismissed three times edging one.
Today he’d learned that lesson, ducking Archer and only pulling when bouncers didn’t get up. Maxwell was trying to do the right thing, making judicious choices of which bowlers to attack while defusing England’s main method of getting him out.
Expecting Archer to attack him with pace was his undoing. Maxwell was only trying to defend off the back foot when he saw another short ball, having come on strike with two balls left in Archer’s eighth over. Australia was minutes away from playing him out.
But Archer was wise to what Maxwell was wise to. The short ball was a slow delivery. It floated onto a length, gripped in the pitch and sat up. Maxwell’s defensive shot was already completed, the ball meeting the extended bat to lob to cover. Archer had outpaced, out-thought and outplayed.
That was pretty much goodnight for Australia. There was more entertainment, with Mitchell Starc’s big hitting, Smith’s solo 85, and Jos Buttler’s absurd run-out by throwing the ball through Smith’s legs as the Australian ran to the non-striker’s end.
But Woakes nicking off Starc and Mark Wood bowling Jason Behrendorff were just mopping up the end of what Woakes and Archer had started.
A score of 223 would have taken a supreme bowling performance to defend, one like New Zealand had produced to topple India. On the day, none of Australia’s fast bowlers were able to match the standard of New Zealand’s the day before or England’s earlier that day.
In the end, England’s batsmen only emphasised how modest the total was, rather than making an imposing one of their own. Australia had entered a World Cup that was supposed to be defined by a new kind of scoring speed, but exited it thanks to old-fashioned pace.