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CHAMPIONS TROPHY: RUTHLESS ENGLAND SEND AUSTRALIA HOME

Stokes century leads hosts to Edgbaston victory

Hear that? That’s the sound of the cake being iced.

England were safe in the knowledge they would top the group regardless of what happened at Edgbaston. But, of course, England v Australia is never truly meaningless. There was a chance to send Steve Smith’s team home early and strike a blow in this Ashes proxy war with the real thing rapidly approaching.

Adil Rashid and Mark Wood were highly impressive with the ball before a world-class stand from Eoin Morgan and Ben Stokes powered England to victory.

England’s bowling unit have seriously stepped up to the mark. In Mark Wood they have one of the world’s best white-ball seamers. Would you trade him for any of Rabada, Southee, or Starc?

In Adil Rashid they have an ever-improving leggy who is starting to look every bit as dangerous as Imran Tahir.

Wood claimed 4 for 33, Rashid 4 for 41 as England reined Australia in anytime they looked like letting loose.

Jake Ball opened proceedings with maiden - as he did against New Zealand - and Wood went for just one run in his first over, but Australia soon started to pick up the pace.

Warner and Finch’s seamless understanding of one another’s game plan saw them nicking every run on offer. There were a couple of brutish hits thrown into the mix as the opening pair punished anything short.

Enter Mark Wood. 

The Durham man is making a habit of taking key wickets. Wood produced a snorter to find Warner’s edge for the breakthrough, which made his last three wickets; Warner, Kane Williamson and Hashim Amla. Prize scalps.

Finch and Smith steered Australia back on course adding 96 for the second wicket before the opener - who looked well set to put England to the sword - crashed Stokes into the murky Edgbaston sky, on its arrival back to the Earth’s atmosphere Morgan took a well-taken catch under a swirling ball.

Moises Henriques produced a cameo to add 25 with his captain, Smith evidently unimpressed with  the No.4 as he slapped Rashid’s googly to mid-on.

With the power hitters of Warner and Finch out of the picture, the rest of Australia’s batting depended on Smith, and who could stay with him. With the captain - who reached his 17th ODI fifty - at the crease, Australia, at 181 for 3, were more or less on course for 300 plus.

Enter Mark Wood.

Not the finest ball Wood sent down today, but the first nut of his second spell was chipped straight to mid-off by the Aussie skipper. However that wicket-taking habit feeds itself matters not, as long as the habit continues England won't care how the wickets fall.

Maxwell and Travis Head added 58 to stabilise the Australian innings after the departure of their captain. At 239 for 4, Australia had a platform to push on.

Mark Wood appears front and centre.

As with the first delivery of his second spell, Wood should have had another with the first dart of his third, Maxwell hammering to cover where Liam Plunkett could not hold on. Two balls later he would have his man. 

Maxwell appeared to have struck a short delivery for six, but the ball was a small gust of wind short of sailing clear, and no one had accounted for Jason Roy rounding the boundary, plucking the travelling orb out of the sky, keeping his feet inside the boundary with the balance and agility of a Nubian ibex scaling a rock face, releasing the ball momentarily as he skipped over the rope and back to snaffle it safely in his grasp. Replayed in glorious slow motion, all that was missing was David Attenborough’s soporific voice relaying Roy’s movements in divine detail.

From there England, Rashid and Wood in particular, were supreme at the back-end. The leg-spinner removed Matthew Wade, Mitchell Starc, and Pat Cummins on route to his second-best ODI figures. 28 of Rashid’s 60 deliveries were dots, he didn’t concede a single boundary, not one.

Wood clattered Adam Zampa’s off peg to claim his fourth before Josh Hazlewood stuck around long enough with Head (71*) to claw Australia to 277 for 9.

In these heady days, anything below 300 is often a stroll in the park for England’s high-octane batting line-up, and so it proved to be.

Unfortunately Roy’s Planet Earth audition would prove to be the apex of his day. Starc served up a full toss first ball, gift-wrapped for a batsman out of form, which was put away for four. His follow-up planted into Roy’s front pad. The opener reviewed without consulting Alex Hales, it proved to be wasteful act of desperation from Roy whose woes continue.

Hazlewood was probing and found the edge of both Hales and Joe Root before the day’s first rain rolled in.

How ironic that in the first game Australia would actually manage a result - after two washouts - that the brief rain spell at the start of England’s reply would entirely turn the tide of the match. Let’s just hope nobody slaps an Alanis Morissette or Travis or album on the stereo of Australia’s team bus.

When the Midlands sky cleared up, Morgan and Stokes returned with the bit firmly between their teeth.

Starc was tasked with the restart which Morgan greeted with back-to-back fours. England's unrelenting aggression with the bat is unparalleled, and it is from Morgan that England take their lead. He is the general who insists on being first over the top. From there the England captain and Stokes never looked back. As if engaged in a one-on-one boundary-hitting competition, the pair bludgeoned their way to a 159-run stand, passing their previous best of 110 in ODIs. Its downfall was something of a horror show with both batsman closing in on centuries, a mix-up seeing the captain run out with a fine throw from Zampa.

With Stokes on 85, Buttler would slash his way to 29 from 32 before the Durham allrounder reached three figures, and he did so with one ball to spare before the rain returned, taking the players off for what would be the final time.

With Australia 136 for 1 England were highly impressive with the ball to restrict them to 277, and at 35 for 3, Morgan and Stokes were glorious to watch as they counter-punched. This England team is littered with match-winners, whenever they find themselves on the ropes, someone always comes out swinging.

And finally, after and incredible run-chase by Shakib al Hasan and Mahmudullah yesterday, this result means that Australia are heading home, while Bangladesh are storming into the final four.

There are two semi-finals to be decided, but… if the hosts were to meet, and defeat The Tigers at The Oval next Sunday, their white-ball revolution since being knocked out of the World Cup by Bangladesh will have come full circle.