At bare minimum a semi-final against India or South Africa. In a group with Bangladesh, New Zealand and the revamped England, Australia had only to worry about their neighbors. They’d get Bangladesh, and make England toil hard for victory. Surely, a seasoned team with confidence, skill, a bit of class and absolute authority on the field would make the right plays and get that semi-final berth. After all, don’t Australian captains have a ridiculous hobby for collecting ICC trophies?
Australia seemed set with in-form David Warner and Chris Lynn, accountable for destroying bowlers’ careers at the recent IPL, and a returning Mitchell Starc to attack alongside Josh Hazlewood, perhaps world cricket’s most disciplined bowler at the moment. The semi-final of an ICC tournament ardently awaited its most frequent visitor.
Rain happened. And Chris Lynn didn’t get a game. In fact, none of them got a complete game without an interruption. Their first game against New Zealand ended in no result, a preferred result for the Australians as captain Steve Smith dubbed it their worst bowling performance. And so they saved face. They would have easily pocketed the game against Bangladesh. But the clouds had followed the Aussies, as this rain-hit game too concluded in not producing a result. This time, the Aussies were robbed of a victory with only four overs to play to produce a result. Frustration.
The Oval was engulfed in gloom for much of the day, Australia v Bangladesh, Champions Trophy 2017, The Oval, London, June 5, 2017
But here came a chance against England, no net run-rate business, just a simple win and onto the semi-final, Australian cricket’s birthright. Not this time though. The rain followed, but not before England savored outplaying their Ashes rival in a dead rubber for them, and a virtual quarter-final for the Australians. A campaign that never started, and the bleeding emu was put out of its misery.
Ben Stokes's century sealed Australia's elimination
Well obviously, the rain. But one could argue it started off the field. Australian Cricketers’ Association’s pay dispute with Cricket Australia occupied much of the players’ time mentally. Another reason could have been the lack of games for Mitchell Starc before his comeback. But really against England, they squandered their first true opportunity to post a defendable target. That too against a batting line-up as long as my mother’s weekend grocery list. They had the platform but staggered to an under-par 277. Australia’s only notable bowler, Josh Hazlewood shone bright with 3 quick wickets up front. But that was it, they had hit the wall guarded by Ben Stokes and Eoin Morgan. And it was curtains for Australia, courtesy ruthless, unforgiving England. Australia were found wanting, and the semi-final welcomed an unexpected visitor instead.