Australia favoured to end defending champ England’s run at Cricket World Cup

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A jaded Jos Buttler now drags his dejected troops from Lucknow to Ahmedabad, the shrine of Indian cricket.

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At the Narendra Modi Stadium that sits 132,000, England will face old enemy Australia on Saturday. A fired-up Australian squad will be looking forward to ending the defending champion’s miserable stay in this tournament.

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After that embarrassing 100-run hammering by India in Lucknow on Sunday, England is confident it can bounce back and qualify for the semifinals. It’s great to harbour that dream, but in all honesty, that’s not going to happen.

The English have wobbled around like a punch-drunk boxer and the Aussies will likely deliver the coup de grace.

That loss to India was the defending champion’s fifth in six matches after being manhandled in the opener by New Zealand. Then followed a shock defeat to Afghanistan, a 219-run hammering by South Africa and the ultimate insult was being shot out for 156 in 33.2 overs by a below-strength Sri Lanka, which replied with 160 for two in 25.4 overs. England’s only victory came against Bangladesh.

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So, what has happened to a proud squad that was crowned World Cup champion four years ago and then added the T20 world championship to its mantlepiece as well?

England’s two heroes of the 2019 final have been walking disasters. Ben Stokes was coerced into returning for the white ball game after originally having retired to concentrate on Test matches. Eoin Morgan, who led England to the World Cup in 2019, said the squad was “definitely unsettled and there’s something else going on, there has to be.’’

But head coach Matthew Mott rejected any notion of there being a rift in the camp.

Stokes was obviously unfit, but was still picked to play. He averaged a measly 16 from three innings ending with him walking off open-mouthed after being flummoxed for a 10-ball duck by India paceman Mohammad Shami.

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Skipper Buttler, one of the stars in last season’s Indian Premier League, has averaged 17.50 and this was possibly because of carrying the weight of his squad on his shoulders.

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Star batsman Joe Root has averaged 29 with scores of 11, 3 and 2 and opener Jonny Bairstow hasn’t been any better, averaging 23.50.

England has three more qualifiers left and, on current form, there is room for more humiliation and Australia can end this meaningless talk about England staying alive mathematically.

What is even more embarrassing for England is that it stands on the brink of elimination from the 2025 Champions Trophy in Pakistan. The top seven in this tournament will advance and this is indeed an extraordinary outcome for the double world champions.

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In the clash against India on Sunday in front of 49,000 cheering fans all dressed in blue at the Ekana Cricket Stadium in Lucknow, England showed some skill and spirit in limiting the host nation to 229, but then collapsed spectacularly for a meagre 129 in 35 overs.

The damage was done by new ball bowlers Jasprit Bumrah (three for 32) and Mohammad Shami (four for 22). Earlier, skipper Rohit Sharma scored a brilliant 87.

RACE FOR THE SEMIS HEATING UP

Meanwhile, Afghanistan maintained its hopes of reaching the semifinals by defeating Sri Lanka by seven wickets in Pune on Monday.

Set to score 242 for victory, Afghanistan ended up on 242 for three with Azmatullah Omarzai unbeaten on 73 and captain Hashmatullah Shahidi 58 not out, the pair sharing an unbroken stand of 111.

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Afghanistan now has six points and sits in fifth place in the table, two behind New Zealand and Australia with the top four guaranteed to make the semis.

And Pakistan also kept its slim hopes of making it to the last four by bashing Bangladesh by seven wickets on Tuesday in Kolkata.

Fast bowlers Shaheen Afridi (three for 23) and Mohammad Wasim (three for 31) dismissed the opposition for 204 and Pakistan then saw Fakhar Zaman score a rapid 81 and Abdullah Shaffique 68 in a 128-run opening stand.

The left-armed Afridi took his 100th ODI wicket in the match and handed Bangladesh its sixth straight loss to put it out of a spot in the semis.

The race for a place in the top four has been heating up and, with Bangladesh eliminated, it leaves nine still battling it out.

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Hosts India sits on top with points from six matches and is certain to advance. South Africa is next with 10 points followed by New Zealand and Australia with eight apiece. Afghanistan is next with six while Bangladesh and England prop up the table with two points each.

New Zealand, after that heart-breaking loss to Australia in Dharamsala, takes on South Africa in what should be an excellent affair on Wednesday.

In a record-scoring affair, the Aussies piled on 388 in 49.2 overs thanks to a hard-hitting 109 off 67 balls by Travis Head in his first match back. He combined with David Warner (81) to put on 175 off just 19.1 overs and the Kiwis replied with 383 for nine to go down by just five runs.

Star for the Kiwis was 23-year-old Rachin Ravindra, who stroked 116, and James Neesham, who bludgeoned 58 runs.

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