England face great Australia barrier in World Cup opener
England, chasing a maiden World Cup title, head into the tournament with fresh painful memories of three losses to the Australians, including a crushing 112-run defeat in last month’s tri-series final.
Eoin Morgan’s team have to turn around a wretched record of two wins from their last 15 ODI encounters in Australia before an expected 90,000 crowd at the MCG.
The last of England’s three losing World Cup finals was in Australia in 1992.
Adding to their problems is that in a tough Pool A they will also face 1996 winners Sri Lanka and the improving tournament co-hosts New Zealand.
England are banking on home expectations getting the better of the Australians as it proved when the World Cup was last held Down Under 23 years ago and they knocked the Aussies out in the semi-finals.
“It’s important to focus on what we do best. I think a lot of times in the past we’ve strived for a formula that hasn’t been ours,” Morgan said.
“I think if we can produce what I think is our best cricket on Saturday, we’ll be able to beat Australia.”
The Australians, who will go into the tournament opener without skipper Michael Clarke as he strives for full fitness after hamstring surgery, are looking for the impetus of a commanding victory to get the country behind them for the rest of the six-week tournament.
“There’s pressure on every team in any World Cup, wherever you’re playing, to win,” Australia coach Darren Lehmann said.
“For us it’s about embracing our own country and getting the support from the crowd, entertaining them and playing the brand of cricket we have over the last 18 months in the one-day format.
“If we do that, the results will look after themselves.
“We don’t look any further ahead than England and looking forward to great crowd support and putting on a good show.”
Australia are peaking at the right time for a crack at their fifth World Cup triumph and have only lost one of their last 12 ODIs against all-comers.
Australia accounted for the third-ranked South Africans 4-1 in a series at home last November and comfortably beat England and India in the tri-series in the final weeks before the World Cup.
Morgan has issues of his own heading into cricket’s showpiece with three ducks in his last four outings restricting his meaningful batting practice.
“I’m not really that concerned. I’ve had a couple of low scores, but obviously I’m looking to cash in on Saturday if I manage to get past 10 to 20 balls,” Morgan said.
“Four or five games since I last scored a 100, so I don’t have to look that far back to actually reconnect with what works well for me.
“I took a lot out of that 100 I scored in Sydney (last month), particularly as it was against Australia. I take a lot of confidence from that game.”
Lehmann mischievously hopes Morgan’s batting troubles continue for a little while longer.
“He’s a good player. I’d like him to continue that run against us on Saturday, but he’s a fine player so we’ll come up with our plans as we did in the tri-series,” he said.
The highest crowd for an ODI at the MCG of 87,789 for the 1992 Pakistan-England World Cup final is under threat this weekend- AFP