England v Australia: Cricket World Cup hosts excited for semi-final
Captain Eoin Morgan believes his England side could not be better prepared for their World Cup semi-final against Australia at Edgbaston on Thursday.
The hosts lost to Australia in the group stage, but reached their first semi since 1992 with wins against India and New Zealand.
“The last two games we managed to produce something near our best performances,” Morgan told BBC Sport.
“That’s extremely encouraging.”
England began the World Cup as favourites and the number-one ranked team, but were on the verge of going out after being beaten by Australia at Lord’s.
To make it to the last four, they had to defeat both India and New Zealand, the two sides that contested the other semi-final.
“We’re delighted to be here,” added Morgan, whose side are bidding to face New Zealand in Sunday’s final at Lord’s.
“Throughout the group stage, it looked in question, but I don’t think we could be better prepared. We’re extremely excited and looking forward to it.
“Looking back, it hasn’t worked out badly at all.”
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Morgan deflects Pietersen’s bouncer criticism
While England have not won a World Cup knockout game for 27 years, Australia have won four of the past five tournaments.
When they met at Lord’s, England were outplayed to lose by 64 runs, but Morgan claimed his side are a different proposition now.
“I don’t think we can completely ignore it, we do have to learn a little bit about Australia,” said the Dublin-born batsman. “But, given it was three games ago, we look a different team.”
During that game, Morgan was out hooking a bouncer from Australia pace bowler Mitchell Starc.
At the time, former England batsman Kevin Pietersen tweeted that Morgan looked “scared”.
The following day, Pietersen again tweeted, saying: “I want to give him the benefit of the doubt and say he was showing his stumps because Starc attacks them. I may be wrong though? Or I may be right?
When asked about Pietersen’s comments, Morgan said: “When Kevin Pietersen comes out with a comment, it’s very similar to comments I address from Geoffrey Boycott.
“They are not ones that are considered good for a team environment and don’t take the best interests of the team or the player at heart. Guys are trying their heart out to do well for their country, trying to learn, trying to get better.
“We have critics being critics. They need to do that, that’s their job, so let them be.”
Finch expects ‘parochial’ atmosphere
Australia were top of the group for most of the round-robin phase and were set to play in the first semi-final at Old Trafford until they were beaten by South Africa on Saturday.
They now must play at an Edgbaston ground where England have won 10 consecutive matches across all formats and where Australia have not won a one-day international since their famous 1999 World Cup semi-final against South Africa – and even that was tied.
On the reception his side will receive, Australia captain Aaron Finch said: “It’s a great crowd to play in front of, regardless whether you are on the receiving end of some good banter.
“It is always a great atmosphere and a pleasure to play here. I think although they can be quite parochial at times, it is always good fun, they sing some good tunes out there.”
Australia have already confirmed that batsman Peter Handscomb, in the squad as a replacement for Shaun Marsh, will play his first game of the tournament.
Matthew Wade has also replaced Usman Khawaja and could come into the side.
England are likely to be unchanged, meaning Liam Plunkett continues as one of four frontline pace bowlers and off-spinner Moeen Ali misses out.
There have been some concerns that Edgbaston may not be full given that it seemed likely that India were set to be in this semi-final, only for their fans to have to turn their attention to Old Trafford.
The International Cricket Council have urged fans with unwanted tickets to resell them on their official site.
As of Wednesday afternoon, there were still tickets available on the ICC website.
World Cup or Ashes?
England and Australia meet in the World Cup semi-final just three weeks before the first Ashes Test, which is also at Edgbaston on 1 August.
But which would Australia prefer to win?
Former Australia captain Steve Waugh told the Test Match Special podcast: “I think if you asked the coach, Justin Langer, he would prefer the Ashes over the World Cup but having said that he would love to win the World Cup and so would all of the players as well.
“I don’t think it will be crucial [for the Ashes to win the World Cup]. They are totally different games but it doesn’t hurt if you win the World Cup.
“Confidence will be high in the camp. It is a long tour. It is important to keep winning on long tours so it is important for Australia to do well here.”
And finally… the weather forecast
BBC Weather’s Billy Payne: “It’s now looking mostly cloudy through both the morning and afternoon with occasional light showers possible, but a few bright or sunny interludes may develop.
“Highs of 22C (72F). Winds W to SW’ly at 10-12mph.”
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