A month and a half of ODIs, centuries, and washouts have come down to this. Defending champions Australia (6-5) take on hosts England (4-6) in Thursday morning’s second semifinal for the right to play in Sunday’s 2019 ICC Cricket World Cup Final. The winner will face New Zealand, who withstood India— and the weather— in the first, two-day semifinal. England have never won the World Cup, but are once again favorites (11-8) to do so this year.
The Black Caps needed help from their bowlers and fielders— and mother nature— to pull the upset of the tournament against a powerful India side. When rain forced the suspension of play with fewer than three overs to go, New Zealand stood at just 211. The next day, the Black Caps rallied to finish 239-8. By the time India’s veritable murderers’ row of Virat Kohli, Rohit Sharma, and KL Rahul entered the Old Trafford crease, statisticians gave India a 98% chance at victory. Instead, all three were dismissed for just one run each. Once Jimmy Neesham caught Dinesh Kartik for six, the collapse was on, and the Black Caps advanced to their second consecutive final, winning by 18 runs.
It’s been all business for Australia in this tournament. Once the pariahs of the cricketing world, the defending champions steamrolled to seven wins and only two defeats: one against India in their third match, the other against South Africa in their last. David Warner and captain Aaron Finch have brought the bats, while Steve Smith withstood the boos in his return from Sandpapergate. If you’re a history buff, Australia have never lost a World Cup semifinal, and have won the whole tournament four of the last five times. All this might explain a very relaxed and confident side.
The Aussies already defeated England in round robin play two weeks ago, and, despite being slight favorites, the hosts will have to bring their A-game to pull off a reversal of fortune. After losses to Pakistan and Sri Lanka, who finished 5th and 6th, respectively, the hosts needed to knock off the other two semifinalists in consecutive matches just to make the last four. Captain Eoin Morgan believes this run of form has given England the momentum they need to win their first semifinal in 27 years. The opening partnership of Jonny Bairstow and Jason Roy has been crucial to England’s success, and will be dearly needed on Thursday.
Another side boasting an impressive run of form in this tournament has been mother nature. Rain has cancelled a record four matches, shortened one, and delayed the first semifinal. Forecasters are predicting a 40-50% chance of rain on Thursday as well. Should the other semifinal be abandoned, Australia’s superior record and points total would send them to Lord’s on Sunday.