Cricket World Cup 2019: England roar out with dominant familiarity thanks to Jason Roy
Jason Roy hit Steve Smith for three successive sixes at Edgbaston. © AFP

BIRMINGHAM: The moods in Manchester and Birmingham have been quite different this week. Up north, there is a lot more rain, a lot less sunshine, and it impacted the first semi-final. The voices were confident prior to that rain though, even if all turned sombre soon enough when New Zealand knocked India out.

Here in the midlands, the mood was jubilant. It was a first semi-final for England since 1992. And there was no threat of rain. Additionally, Edgbaston is a centre-point for fans from all over the country, and with rank-old rivals as their opponents, the stage was set for even more jubilation.

It is not to say England got carried away, no. They have been guilty of just that previously in the tournament, and had to pull up their socks. This was about staying in the moment, and doing the basics right. They had faltered at this juncture in the 2017 Champions Trophy and didn’t want to repeat those or any of the recent mistakes. This was about planning and execution.

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At this juncture, we do go back to earlier in this 2019 World Cup where England have gotten too big for their shoes. It was against Sri Lanka that they messed up the chase first, and then Australia blew them away. Jason Roy was the missing factor in both instances. But that Lankan defeat was a body blow – the defeat to Australia in its aftermath just a carry-on effect, which allowed the defending champions to express themselves fully.

This was the over-riding factor going into this second semi-final at Edgbaston.

With Roy in, there is a swagger about this English side, almost as if they come into their own. This trait was visible from ball one – Jofra Archer and Chris Woakes didn’t give any breathing space to the Australian batsmen, pinning them back, bowling back of length and into their bodies. It was different from the league clash at Lord’s because of difference in conditions.

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Regular wickets worked their charm in Manchester, and they did so in Birmingham as well. Australia finished with a sub-par score, on a better deck that we saw at Old Trafford perhaps. There was only question of early wickets – the big fallibility of batting line-ups in this World Cup. Enter Roy, again!

Jason Roy World Cup 2019
Jason Roy’s sparkling 85 led England’s strong reply. © AFP

Roy is your quintessential white-ball batsman. He brings the chutzpah of Virender Sehwag to the table, and you understand why England’s game plan completely changed when he was out for two games. With him at the crease, there is always a boundary coming, and then the next.

In the present-day context, he is a mix of Shikhar Dhawan’s surprising exuberance and David Warner’s consistency. You would think it is odd to pick these two names from a plethora of international openers who have made their presence felt in this tournament. It is not – both India and Australia are tremendously dependent on Dhawan and Warner, respectively, to provide ballistic starts at the top.

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It was Dhawan’s absence that cost India as they were unable to find a solution to the middle order problem. It was Warner who found a new way to bat in this tournament providing rousing starts to the Australian innings, and they were so heavily leaning on him that his cheap dismissal on Friday kick-started the downfall.

Roy’s absence has impacted England’s plans. His presence has rejuvenated them, and breathed new life into this World Cup campaign. It began with the game against India, manifested further with the win over New Zealand, and now, England have regained their swagger. His return – and big-hitting form – has combined to recapture the hosts’ marauding nature of cricket.

Perhaps the best showcase of it was the manner Roy smacked Steve Smith out of the attack with disdain. It was the last throw of their dice, mixing some spin to surprise the batsmen, a change of pace if you will. The opener launched into him, converting boos Smith receives into cheers for those sixes, each bigger than the last. It was as if he was doing the Australian a mercy.

In this moment the full impact of England’s impending semi-final victory was realised. It was a familiar sight of domination – almost a boxing match that should have been stopped before full time, as Australia lay bloodied middle of the Edgbaston ring.

Their record of never having lost a World Cup semi-final was shattered, and now there will be a new champion on Sunday. New Zealand proved a point in Manchester, but England have sent a message to London from Birmingham.