LONDON: England made a sensational start in their blockbuster World Cup semi-final against Australia on Thursday as they seek to reach their first final since 1992 and cement their status as the top side in one-day international cricket.
Ashes rivals Australia won the toss at Edgbaston and chose to bat but were in deep trouble at 14 for three, with prolific opening pair David Warner and Aaron Finch, as well as Peter Handscomb, back in the pavilion.
The winners of the match in Birmingham will face New Zealand, who shocked mighty India at Old Trafford on Wednesday.
England’s embarrassingly limp first-round exit at the 2015 tournament prompted an overhaul of their approach to one-day internationals for a side that had long placed Test success above all other considerations.
Australian coach Trevor Bayliss was drafted in with the aim of guiding their bid for a first World Cup crown.
The transformation has been impressive, with England climbing to number one in the ODI rankings under the astute captaincy of Eoin Morgan.
Their rise to the summit has been based on dynamic run-scoring, with in-form openers Jason Roy and Jonny Bairstow leading the way at the top of the order and Ben Stokes and Jos Buttler adding enormous power in the engine room of the side.
The addition of fast bowler Jofra Archer has given the host nation an enviable pace attack, which did the damage early on Thursday.
Barbados-born Archer struck with his first ball, trapping Finch lbw for a duck and Woakes had Warner caught in the slips for just nine.
Warner, who walked out to boos because of his role in a ball-tampering scandal in South Africa last year, returned to even louder jeers.
Steve Smith, who was also given a 12-month ban for his part in the incident, was given a similar greeting when he made his way to the wicket.
Warner’s exit brought in Handscomb, only recently called into the squad after Usman Khawaja’s tournament-ending hamstring injury, but he was bowled by Woakes for just four.
Australia wicketkeeper Alex Carey had his helmet knocked off by an Archer bouncer and required several minutes of on-field treatment before resuming his innings but he and Smith took the score to 55-3 after 16 overs.
England highs and lows
Morgan had urged England to avoid being overawed by the scale of the task confronting them in Birmingham and he shrugged off the loss of the toss at Edgbaston, even though batting first has been a major advantage during the World Cup.
“We are not really bothered before the World Cup we preferred to chase. Whoever plays the best cricket will go through,” he said.
“We have had highs and lows in the tournament but in the past two games (wins over India and New Zealand) we have gone from strength to strength.”
Australia have not lost any of their seven previous World Cup semi-finals although they did tie with South Africa at Edgbaston 20 years ago before advancing into the final thanks to their superior net run-rate from the preceding ‘Super Six’ stage.
England had won 10 of their last 11 ODIs against Australia prior to the World Cup but that counted for nothing when Australia landed a psychological blow in the group stage, beating their Ashes rivals by 64 runs at Lord’s last month.
Roy was missing with a torn hamstring and since his return, England have secured crucial wins over India and New Zealand that took them into the semi-finals.
Australia, who have not won in any format at Edgbaston since the 2001 Ashes Test, suffered a surprise 10-run defeat by South Africa at Old Trafford in their final group game.
Australia are bidding for a sixth World Cup title, having won four of the past five editions.
“We’re full of confidence going into this game, but England have been front runners in one-day cricket for the last four years,” said captain Finch.
“It will come down to whoever holds their nerve and whoever holds their half-chances.”