Australia 286 (Labuschagne 71, Green 47, Woakes 4-54) beat England 253 (Stokes 64, Malan 50, Zampa 3-21) by 33 runs
It’s over. And that’s not simply the worst World Cup defence in the history of international sport.
Everything that, for eight heady years, had been taken for granted about England’s white-ball batting has vanished without trace, as if some Hollywood baddy had pinched a sports almanac(k) from the future and set the dials on the team’s Delorean for the 2015 World Cup. We’ve re-entered an epoch of endless, desperate failure – the miracle of 2019 lost forever to some branch-line of the space-time continuum.
England’s sixth defeat – by 33 runs in Ahmedabad – in seven games was in turn Australia’s fifth win in five, with which they have marched clear of a hard-chasing pack to tighten their grip on a semi-final berth. It was marginally less supine than some of England’s losses – thanks to another spirited bowling display led by Adil Rashid and Chris Woakes, who also rallied gamely at the death with the bat, and another compelling but all-too-brief sighting of Ben Stokes in #HeroMode.
But with Adam Zampa surging to the top of the tournament wicket-charts with an outstanding haul of 3 for 21 in ten overs, Australia’s apparently middling target of 287 was never realistically challenged – especially after another abject powerplay in which Joe Root, one of England’s indisputable greats across formats, produced an innings of such awfulness it truly deserves to be his last in coloured clothing.
England versus Australia always tends to exist outside of context, but not on this occasion. Australia’s victory has brought closure to everything – England’s barely-less-than-non-existent hopes of a top-four finish; their claim on the so-called #MoralAshes, especially after Marnus Labuschagne’s Test-tempo 71 proved to be the decisive score of the match; and maybe even their hopes of playing in the 2025 Champions Trophy, if other results go against them in the coming days.
The only thing that must limp on, ironically, is England’s World Cup campaign itself. Netherlands are up next for an unlikely shot at European Championship glory, before Pakistan – fuelled by Qudrat ka nizam after their astonishing win in Bengaluru – rock up in Kolkata with a chance to make their 1992 comeback seem like a standard day in the life.
Just as had been the case in their 100-run loss to India in their previous outing, England played a pretty canny game for the first 50 overs of the match, as they bowled Australia out for 286 after winning the toss, hoping – then as now – that the onset of evening dew might even out a two-paced wicket and allow the ball to skid onto the bat more freely.
But, even if that did eventually prove to be the case, England’s desperate lack of batting form had long since sunk any hopes of making the depth of their line-up count. The nadir arguably came when Jos Buttler, their captain and white-ball GOAT, skimmed the first ball of Zampa’s fifth over to Cameron Green at long-off to trudge off for 1 from six balls – leaving England in the soup at 106 for 4 at the half-way mark of their chase – but the omens had been grim from the very start of an angsty chase.
The England of old could take mishaps in their stride – take Jason Roy’s mighty white-ball record, for instance; that had been pockmarked by countless first-over dismissals, including to the very first ball of his career, but this trait was factored into his willingness to have a go in the first place, safe in the knowledge that his team-mates would close ranks around him.
By contrast, when Jonny Bairstow flicked at an innocuous leg-side loosener from Mitchell Starc to leave England 0 for 1 after one ball of their innings, the groan of recognition was palpable from dug-out to press-box to the armchair of every England fan. Starc’s reaction was sheepish in the extreme. Nevertheless, after going wicketless for the first time in his World Cup career against New Zealand last week, Starc was back on the board at the earliest opportunity, and Australia were surging back onto the front foot in their favourite rivalry.
What followed, from an England perspective, was gory and uncomfortable viewing. Though Dawid Malan hunkered down for the long haul with his familiar cold bloodRoot’s equilibrium endured another thorough rinsing. His second-ball drive for four was as good as his night would get. In the space of his next 15 balls, he survived an lbw appeal from Starc by the skin of his leg bail, a bad drop by Marcus Stoinis at point, and an edged drive off Josh Hazlewood that eluded second slip.
Root’s luck was in, you might presume? His form, unfortunately, is not, and there were only so many gifts that could elude Australia’s clutches. He might have got away with another life when Starc lured him once more in the channel, but Labuschagne charged in from cover to insist he’d heard a noise. UltraEdge duly confirmed a thin snick to leave England 19 for 2 in the fifth over, and Root had succumbed to his 11th powerplay dismissal in 18 innings since the 2019 World Cup, in which time he has averaged a ghastly 5.63.
In Stokes and Malan, England still had a pair of batters whose apparently contrasting methods are united in the belief that good things come to those who lay a platform. And while they were grinding out an 84-run stand for the third wicket, at a similar tempo to that with which Labuschagne and Steve Smith had revived Australia’s own innings, a flicker of muscle memory rippled back into England’s equation.
But then Malan, on 50, gave his innings away with an over-eager pull off Cummins, to expose the out-of-sorts Buttler to a match situation that his game-brain cannot currently compute, and though Moeen Ali rose to the awkward occasion with a diligent run-a-ball 42, the entire psyche of England’s innings screamed “Stokes or bust”, and Australia knew it too.
Despite his horror-duck against India, Stokes’ stage presence was undimmed, as he allowed himself to reach 15 from 37 balls before his first true shot in anger, a fierce straight drive for four off Starc. Thereafter, he became increasingly mighty and muscular, his innings replete with obligatory limps as that troublesome left knee repeatedly buckled beneath the force of his launches to leg.
But for all his Superman bravado, his innings had far too much in common with his lost-cause Ashes onslaughts at Headingley and Lord’s – and his loud groan of “oh no!” as he scuffed a sweep off the incorrigible Zampa confirmed that more than just his innings of 64 from 90 was ending as Stoinis clung on at short fine leg. Liam Livingstone, bizarrely preferred to Harry Brook despite his own grim lack of form, duly lasted less than an over before skimming a pull to midwicket, and when Moeen became Zampa’s third of a superlative spell, the rest was mere formality.
It’s a measure of England’s desperate funk that Australia arguably won against the head, in the wake of their own piecemeal batting display that never really got going, and would surely have been more closely challenged by almost any other chasing side at this tournament.
Without the power of Mitchell Marsh and Glenn Maxwell in their middle order, Australia had a huge amount riding on their equally proactive opening partnership, but Woakes bagged both Travis Head and David Warner inside his first three overs, meaning that, at 38 for 2, Labuschagne and Smith had little choice but to fall back on their Ashes best, grinding out a third-wicket stand of 75 across 16 overs, to guard against a repeat of their 2019 semi-final meltdown.
The delayed entry of England’s main man, Rashid, would destabilise Australia’s innings once more. With 20 overs gone, Smith’s timing was still eluding him when Rashid served up a slower and wider googly in his second over, which dipped on an attempted cut to loop to Moeen at backward point for 44.
That soon became 117 for 4 when Josh Inglis fell to the same combination in Rashid’s second over – this time to an ill-judged reverse-sweep off his sixth delivery – and though Labuschagne brought up his half-century from 63 balls, Rashid’s canny variations, and willingness to take off his pace against his entrenched opponents, kept Australia waiting for their chance to cut loose.
It took Wood’s return to the attack for a visible step-up in Australia’s tempo. Green, Maxwell’s stand-in, looked deeply uncomfortable against Wood’s express pace – at one stage, four fielders converged on a top-edged pull as his bat soared out of his hands towards the square-leg umpire – but he somehow found enough leverage on the wider line to keep snaffling his runs through backward point, including a startling deflected four off a near pinpoint 153kph yorker.
And though Wood bust a gut once again to make a difference – extracting an lbw that left Labuschagne non-plussed as his review showed three reds, before later bombing out Cummins with the short ball – his final figures of 2 for 70 would confirm that was another night on which his raw speed proved too profligate whenever he missed his mark.
Fittingly, it was Zampa who proved this point in decisive fashion. At 247 for 8, he alone found the gumption to kick on into the death overs – albeit he needed a large slice of luck when a 149kph throat-ball from Wood fizzed off his gloves and over the keeper’s head for four. Unfazed, Zampa smashed his very next delivery back down the ground for another boundary, and he’d rattled along to 29 from 19 before Woakes ended Australia’s late charge with two wickets in three balls, two more cutters to prove the virtues of pace-off on a capricious deck.
It should not have been nearly enough, given England’s once-vaunted reputation for chasing, and their belief at the toss that the dew factor would be decisive. It would prove to be plenty, on a night when normal service in the white-ball leg of this ancient rivalry was resumed in emphatic fashion.
Andrew Miller is UK editor of ESPNcricinfo. @miller_cricket