Home » Fantastic foxing: Australia’s weapons of mass deception sound World Cup warning | Geoff Lemon

Fantastic foxing: Australia’s weapons of mass deception sound World Cup warning | Geoff Lemon

In a contest, perception can be a weapon. Perception leads to expectation. Expectation leads to assumption, to over-confidence, to predictability. For England asking Australia to bat first in their T20 World Cup match in Barbados, there might have been the perception of David Warner as an ageing player and slowing scorer.

There was the perception of his circumspect 56 from 51 balls against the modest might of Oman days earlier. There was the perception of struggles against England, and against high pace, for a side in which Mark Wood stood alongside Jofra Archer. For Travis Head there was the perception of struggles against spin. For both openers there was the perception of left-handers being more susceptible to off-breaks.

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Had Head been foxing in the first over, he could not have played it better. Moeen Ali’s off-spin kept him to three runs, with one ball nearly bowling him. England had been tossing around an idea before the game, and with Head keeping strike from the last ball, Jos Buttler pulled that rein: he brought on Will Jacks to continue with off-spin instead of Archer with heat.

Where Moeen had pushed the ball through, Jacks gave more flight, and Head mowed his first offering over midwicket. As if sensing an opening, getting a whiff of whatever fuelled him through a wild IPL season, Head backed up that shot next ball. Then getting width, a slash for three. Warner, ever aware of a chance to punch the bruise, followed by kneeling outside off stump to play a pick-up shot for six more. The over cost 22.

Australia’s Travis Head hits another six from the bowling of England’s Will Jacks in Barbados. Photograph: Ricardo Mazalán/AP

Buttler threw the gear into reverse, forsaking spin for speed. Archer was able to bowl six tidy balls, Wood was supposed to back him up. But Warner turned Wood’s pace against him. A casual flick off his legs, a pull from a short ball, then another flick from a harried full toss: sure, that last one was 149 kilometres an hour, but all of those shots soared for six. Another pull went for four. Another over went for 22.

By now it felt like the partnership that Warner and Head put together during the one-day World Cup last year, when they blitzed New Zealand in the mountains of Dharamsala. That day they put on 175 in the first 19 overs, easing slightly after a similarly destructive start. This time they reached 70 from the first 29 balls of the match, including another 15 from Moeen, before the spinner kept one low to bowl Warner, and Archer did the same next over to bowl Head.

In a tournament where low scores have been the norm, where at the same time South Africa were crawling past a score of 103 to beat the Dutch, nobody has had starts like this. England had hopes for a time in their reply, as Jos Buttler and Phil Salt responded to that stand of 70 with their own of 73. But where Warner and Head’s work ended in the fifth over, Buttler and Salt continued to the 8th, and that small margin was enough to make a difference.

Defending a big total, Adam Zampa’s Man of the Match performance proved crucial in the victory. Photograph: Ricardo Mazalán/AP

For Australia, Mitchell Marsh and Glenn Maxwell were able to use that foundation for a more moderate stand of 65 in 49 balls. England were tense and on the defensive. Mostly good overs still had errors. Marcus Stoinis, Tim David and Matthew Wade were all able to contribute a few fast runs at the end. Scoring 131 for 9 from 15 overs was very different to 70 for 0 from five, but it still took the score past 200, a first for any team this tournament.

For England, the early flurry at ten per over only met the required rate, rather than exceeding it. It still left ten an over needed through the later stages, as batting became more difficult with the ball and the pitch grew more worn. Leg-spinner Adam Zampa was able to exert his influence, skidding a top-spinner through Salt before making Buttler claustrophobic enough to try three ineffective reverse sweeps and get caught from the third. Every incoming player found it hard to start, and every quiet over drove the required rate still higher, and the pressure with it.

As early as those first five overs of the match, it felt like that sequence had decided the result. On perception, Australia have seemed one of the less likely teams to start that way. Not when West Indies have the reputation as six-hunters, or New Zealand has Finn Allen swinging at the top, or Afghanistan has Rahmanullah Gurbaz on fire, or India follows its openers with Rishabh Pant and Suryakumar Yadav. But perception is often illusion, and so it has proved. Meanwhile, England are looking at the reality of a possible group-stage exit, if Scotland can keep winning in days to come.