Can Eoin Morgan & Co. overcome Australia to take a step closer to glory?
A mosey around Birmingham, a few coffees, perhaps some time in the hotel with their feet up. Aaron Finch will be headed to the cinema with his wife to see the animated picture, "The Queen's Corgi". The revelation drew laughter in the Australia captain's press conference. The film might be questionable, but if anyone knows how to prepare for World Cup semi-finals, it's Australia. Played seven, won six, tied one. Five trophies to show for it.
For England, a first semifinal since 1992 means sticking to the habits picked up over the last four years of success. Certainly, Eoin Morgan demands it: "If I find anybody is doing anything different, I would be upset," he said, perhaps tongue in cheek. Right? You never know with Morgan. But, whether under strict instructions to do as they normally do: X-box, golf, maybe even bumping into Finchy at the popcorn stall. We will find out tomorrow who had the best pre-match routine.
There isn't much we don't know about these two sides, in competition and isolation. The Ashes has given us a rich, bloated tapestry to consult. Even the last fortnight has provided much. England's bright start and then near-fatal dip brought introspection immediately after their third and final defeat of the group stages which was inflicted by Australia. And yet still, much has changed.
England turned it on against India and New Zealand to secure a third spot here at Edgbaston where they are unbeaten in their last 10 matches in all forms. Australia stuttered, losing to South Africa and, as a result, having to shift from a comfy Manchester base. On the way, injuries: Usman Khawaja and Shaun Marsh are out. Marcus Stoinis is touch-and-go. Matthew Wade and Peter Handscomb are officially part of the touring party. Mitchell Marsh a "traveller" as Morgan put it.
There is a possibility that these changes, maybe even two for the defending champions' XI on Thursday could discomfort them. But when have Australia ever been uncomfortable at a World Cup? You have to go back to 2011 for their most unsuccessful campaign and then 1996 before that. You could pull a grim one out of a hat for England. Of course, the aim is to change that.
Head-to-head records don't tend to matter at the business ends of competitions like these, which is annoying for the hosts because they've had the best of the recent exchanges coming into 2019. For what it's worth, Australia have not won an ODI here since 1993 and their last Test victory was back in 2001.
The crowd will be predominantly English of course, something only under threat if India had not won the group. With that will come a raucous Hollies stand which Finch and his counterparts have consistently been on the wrong end of. But the expectation is still with England and a side that represent the best hope England have ever had of winning a World Cup. No one holds fear quite like English fans and no one has been better of eliciting that fear than Australians. And certainly to Morgan, Starc and Cummins will be polishing their bouncers this night ready to let them loose on the figurehead.
So here we are, on the cusp of another slobber-knocker. Expectation against history against expectation. Promise against pedigree. An empty cabinet against five-full. England against Australia.
When: July 11, 2019, 09:30 AM GMT / 10:30 AM LOCAL
Where: Edgbaston, Birmingham
What to expect: The pitch is fresh, almost dead-centre. The outfield freshly mowed and light under the toes. New Zealand-India was the low-scoring thriller and expect this match to be the fast-scoring semi. The pitch has been able to breathe over the last few days and been carefully manicured by the local ground staff, under the watchful eye of the ICC. "It looks like a good wicket," said Finch. What grass was on it on Wednesday morning was expected to be shaved. Nevertheless, Edgbaston does good cricket wickets. The toss, though still a big deal, may not be as brutal a factor come Thursday.
A clean bill of health. Jason Roy had a light training session. Jofra Archer kicked a football about. People who needed a hit got one. Mark Wood and Liam Plunkett bowled with pace in the middle. There was a healthy spot of range-hitting, too. They're ready.
Probable XI: Jason Roy, Jonny Bairstow, Joe Root, Eoin Morgan, Ben Stokes, Jos Buttler, Chris Woakes, Mark Wood, Jofra Archer, Liam Plunkett, Adil Rashid
Justin Langer made the intriguing move of confirming Peter Handscomb will "definitely play", just as it looked like he was going to play it cute. That will see him as a direct replacement for Khawaja. There is also a suggestion Wade could get a go, perhaps at number three, at the expense of Glenn Maxwell, who has not fired with the bat. Finch backed his mate and spoke of him in glowing terms, particular his value with ball and in the field. It seems there may be further discussions into the evening around that particular selection. But otherwise, lefties and all, they are set.
Probable XI: Aaron Finch, David Warner, Steve Smith, Peter Handscomb, Marcus Stoinis, Glenn Maxwell, Alex Carey, Pat Cummins, Mitchell Starc, Jason Behrendorff, Natham Lyon
What they said:
"The support we have had throughout the tournament has been unbelievable and certainly something I have never experienced in my life. The amount of good faith and goodwill going around is fantastic, so we sense the support that's with us, but also the opportunity as well." - Eoin Morgan on a nation being England
"World Cups are very special. They bring out the best in the best players, so I think that's why Australia have had a very rich history in World Cups. I mean, winning four of the last five, it's been a great achievement." - Aaron Finch lays out the medals ahead of a go to make it five of the last six