There was a moment, two balls into the 11th over of their innings, when the cameras cut to the balcony outside England’s dressing room, where Eoin Morgan was shaking his head in disbelief. In the middle, Jos Buttler was playing one of the great Twenty20 innings and Australia’s Adam Zampa, having come into the game as the second most economical bowler still in the tournament (after England’s own Chris Woakes), was on his way to departing it as the 32nd. It was not only England’s captain who was finding it all hard to fathom.
It could only ever be so long, a certain number of matches, a limited quantity of emphatically beaten opponents, that England’s critics could reasonably complain that Morgan’s side had not been properly challenged at this World Cup. After they added Australia to the list of teams they have humbled it is clear that when they perform they are just not a team that is particularly challengeable.
This again was a victory forged in the field, but gilded with an innings of brutal magnificence by Buttler. He finished with 71 off 32 balls, having swiftly extinguished the always remote chance of Australia defending their total of 125. More than the toss – which England won, giving them the advantage of batting second – the greatest indicator of the likely victors in this tournament has been supremacy in the powerplay, and this was the second successive game in which England exceeded in three overs the total their opponents reached in six.
By the time their powerplay was over, England’s total was 66 without loss, more than triple Australia’s 21 for three, and Buttler had just deposited one Mitchell Starc delivery over long-off and into the third tier of the stands for six, the next about 20 seats to the left for another, and around the stadium people were groaning and purring with appreciation. Jonny Bairstow later also hit successive sixes, off Zampa, before guiding his side over the line for the loss of two wickets, and with 50 balls to spare.
Even from a side starting to make this kind of performance feel commonplace, this was special. Still, some of England’s achievements felt familiar, and from the start they ripped through a few of their greatest hits, treating the audience to a handful of favourites from their opening two games of this competition, plus a couple from the last time they played Australia in a World Cup, in the semis of the 2019 50-over competition.
Their opponents must be growing tired of some of these tunes by now. Take Marcus Stoinis, who was lbw without scoring to an Adil Rashid googly at Edgbaston two years ago and fell to precisely the same fate here. Stoinis has taken to referring to himself as a rooster, and certainly he looked crestfallen here. Then there was Woakes, player of the match in 2019 and returning to cause a bit more misery, at least until Ashton Agar hit two sixes off his final over.
It seems inexplicable now that Woakes spent nearly six years out of the T20 team before his recall in June, and that despite his success in the Indian Premier League and in other formats for England it was only injuries to others that led to his return. Even those who needed no convincing of his ability must have found his subsequent impact remarkable: over his first eight T20 internationals between 2011 and 2015 his 27 overs had cost an average 9.37 and brought seven wickets; his 17 overs across five games since then have gone at just 4.11 and brought five wickets.
David Warner had batted excellently against Sri Lanka on Thursday night, an innings acclaimed as a return to form after a desperate run of failures in this format. He lasted two balls before Woakes got one to move away off a scrambled seam and take the edge on its way through to Buttler.
In their opening game of the tournament England had West Indies at eight for one and nine for two. Here Australia were seven for one and eight for two, Steve Smith getting the toe of his bat to steer the ball towards mid-on, where Woakes demonstrated his excellence in another aspect of the game with a superb back-pedalling one-handed catch. When Woakes hit both of Glenn Maxwell’s pads with the penultimate bowl of the fourth over and a review failed to save the batsman, it was the 10th wicket England had taken in powerplays at this competition.
The novelty on this occasion was that Moeen Ali, outstanding at the start of the games against West Indies and Bangladesh, did not bowl at all. Morgan instead turned to Liam Livingstone in the middle overs. He demonstrated excellent control and was England’s least expensive bowler; he also took the wicket of Matthew Wade, who hoisted the ball down the throat of Jason Roy at long off.
At that point Australia were 51 for five and it took some late six-hitting from Agar, Pat Cummins and Starc to lift them to a total that, if not defendable, was at least not completely embarrassing. Their match against West Indies now looks crucial in deciding the second-best side in this group; the identity of the first already seems assured.