BIRMINGHAM: Ben Stokes hit a career-best 102 not out and captain Eoin Morgan 87 as England knocked Australia out of the Champions Trophy with a 40-run win over their arch-rivals at Edgbaston on Saturday.
England collapsed to 35 for three chasing 278 for victory before left-handers Morgan and Stokes changed the course of the game with a fourth-wicket partnership of 159 off 158 balls.
Stokes’s third one-day international century was his highest score at this level after the all-rounder had twice made 101.
When a second downpour finally saw play abandoned for the day, England were 240 for four off 40.2 overs — well ahead of the 200 they needed for victory at that stage on the Duckworth-Lewis-Stern method for rain-affected limited-overs matches.
“His potential is through the roof,” said Morgan of Stokes. “His batting was exceptional.”
World Cup champions Australia had to win this match to join already-qualified England in the semi-finals of a tournament featuring the world’s leading eight ODI teams after no result washouts in their previous two Group A fixtures.
But this defeat saw Bangladesh, who beat New Zealand by five wickets in Cardiff on Friday, into the last four instead as England made it three wins out of three in the pool stage.
Earlier, Mark Wood and Adil Rashid bagged four wickets apiece to help England restrict Australia to 277 for 9.
Three Australian batsmen – Aaron Finch (68), Steven Smith (56) and Travis Head (71 not out) – made half-centuries, but Rashid’s 4 for 41 and Wood’s 4 for 33 meant England – and Bangladesh – would be the happiest at the midway stage with the game being played on a batting-friendly track.
Incredibly, Rashid didn’t concede a single boundary in his entire spell. He first arrested Australia’s momentum after a 96-run stand and then ran through the lower order, bagging three wickets in 10 balls. Wood was equally impressive and bowled as many as 40 dot balls in his ten-over spell. In total, Australia failed to score off more than half (153 balls) its overs.
But it all seemed very different when David Warner got going after Australia was asked to bat. He took nine balls to get off the mark but put the slow start behind him with four boundaries before Wood cut short the threat when he found Warner’s outside edge.
Finch, though, carried on in the company of a steady yet busy Smith. Finch seemed in the mood to attack from the outset, constantly throwing his bat at anything wide or short. He missed a few, but when he connected, the ball often travelled far.
Australia raced to 56 for 1 in the first 10. England realised the need to be fuller with the lengths, but Finch was strong down the ground as well, driving the pacers through the V. Without anything extravagant, Australia went past 100 in 18 overs and Finch crossed 50 at over a run-a-ball.
The England pacers’ inability to hit the correct lengths left Rashid with a massive task to do, and he rose to the occasion with some tidy bowling. Finch in particular struggled against the skiddy, straight deliveries and was nearly trapped lbw on a couple of occasions.
The pressure created by Rashid resulted in Ben Stokes bagging his 50th One-Day International wicket when Finch looked to deposit a full ball over mid-off but only managed to miscue to cover, where Eoin Morgan took a good catch running back.
With the leg-spinner in the midst of a good spell, one might have expected the left-handed Head to walk in. But Australia stuck with Moises Henriques, with an ODI batting average of 8, and though Henriques began with a couple of crisp drives he walked straight into the trap when he slogged a rare flighted ball from Rashid to mid-on.
None of Australia’s batsmen after Henriques had batted in the earlier two rain-affected matches, and the onus was on the man at the other end – Smith. The skipper seemed intent on a big one and reduced risks, going through a 26-ball period without a boundary. But he fell in the softest manner possible when he gently chipped Wood’s first ball of his second spell straight to mid-off.
From 136 for 1, Australia had slipped to 181 for 4 and was losing momentum in the middle overs.
That would change once again – for a brief while – with Head leading a counter-attack in the company of Glenn Maxwell. He accumulated runs with quick running and was also hard on anything on the leg-side, swatting and flicking to the boundary.
Australia stayed close to six an over with the fifth-wicket partnership crossing 50 and looking set going into the death overs. In what could have potentially made matters worse for England, Liam Plunkett dropped a straightforward chance off Maxwell in the 43rd over at cover.
Fortunately for England, it wouldn’t cost anything as Jason Roy made up with a splendid catch at deep mid-wicket, stepping out and in of the boundary line in typical Twenty20 style to hand Wood the wicket he should have had a couple of balls earlier.
Rashid capitalised on the opening immediately with a double-wicket over, getting Matthew Wade and Mitchell Starc to pop simple catches off leading edges. In the space of ten balls, Australia went from 239 for 4 to 245 for 7, and once again lost all the momentum.
Rashid then had his fourth when Pat Cummins chipped an easy return catch, even as Head waged a lone battle at the other end to lift Australia to a competitive total.