Rain threat looms large as the Melbourne Cricket Ground gears up for a high-octane clash between archrivals Australia and England on Friday. Both the sides will be desperate for a win to stay in contention for the last-four stage.
Unrelenting showers a day ahead saw the MCG staff install grow lights. These, also called the arena lighting system, are used to keep the pitch dry and usually brought in during winters when only about 10 percent of natural sunlight hits the ground.
Australia hasn’t played at the MCG so far in the tournament, but England suffered a shock defeat against Ireland the other evening and got a taste of the conditions during its rain-affected outing. Despite some big names in its ranks, England struggled to counter Ireland’s pace attack and was reduced to 37 for three in the PowerPlay during its run chase. And ahead of the clash against the defending champion, that certainly would be an area of concern for the England top-order.
The team’s shock defeat has thrown Group 1 wide open, and both England and Australia are aware of the implications. “We were hurting last night, and there’s no hiding from that. It was a disappointing loss for us. But you very rarely go through these tournaments undefeated. We’ve dropped the game and we need to play the cricket that we’re capable of,” England coach Matthew Mott said on Thursday.
The team has very short time for a turnaround. The front line pacers let the team down in the first 11 overs, allowing Ireland to reach the 100-run mark with ease, before Liam Livingstone and Mark Wood pulled things back with late strikes. But against Australia, which has depth in batting, it is a must for England bowlers to ensure an economical PowerPlay. The juicy deck at the ‘G’ and the overcast conditions would aid the fast bowlers, despite it being the second of the double-headers.
Questions have also been raised over Ben Stokes’ form. The Test captain has been able to reach the double digits only once in the last five T20I innings since he arrived Down Under earlier this month. But coach Mott expects Stokes to strike form in the big game and also insists that the team will likely stick with the same XI that took on Ireland.
For Australia, things are a bit more complicated. Amid high expectations from home fans, Australia’s net run rate (NRR) remains at -1.555, which is the lowest among the five teams to have won a game in the group so far. So, that certainly will be a huge challenge for the Aaron Finch-led side.
There are also concerns over Finch’s form, who struggled to break free in the last game against Sri Lanka. While Finch calls it an ‘anomaly’ in his career, the captain understands he needs to be more consistent in his approach in a bid to help Australia make the most of the PowerPlay.
Ahead of the big game, wicketkeeper-batter Matthew Wade contracted COVID-19 and even though the tournament rules allow him to participate, it needs to be seen whether the team management actually decides to take the risk.
Amid uncertainty over Wade, Australia will be hoping to look at the positives. Marcus Stoinis and Glenn Maxwell, who steadied the ship in the last outing against Sri Lanka, will be expected to come good yet again.
Adam Zampa, who was down with a bout of COVID-19, will be available for the England clash and that would set up an exciting clash with Moeen Ali. The duo have had a few exciting duels in the past and Zampa has dominated on quite a few occasions.
Finch believes that even though the Aussie “doesn’t spin the ball as much as compared to the other guys around the world, he’s got a huge heart and has great accuracy.”
The pace battery, comprising Josh Hazlewood, Mitchell Starc and Pat Cummins too would be hoping to make the most of the track. Hazlewood has mastered the format, while Starc seems to have found his mojo as the first change, and they all will have to chip in with their contributions. Leading up to the tournament, England had defeated Australia in a T20I series, but Finch believes it won’t have an impact on Friday’s performance.
This will be Australia’s first game in Melbourne since Shane Warne’s passing. Finch knows it will be an emotional moment when the Aussie quicks take their run-ups from the end near the Shane Warne stand. The team will be eager to pay a fitting tribute to the legend.
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