Friends and enemies to decide epic semi-final clash
DAVID Warner and Jonny Bairstow have been mortal Ashes enemies and coffee-sipping IPL teammates but suddenly they have a fresh challenge ... to bring each other down in front of the eyes of the world.
The duo have been among the hottest batting acts in the World Cup and their success or failure is likely to shape Thursday's semi-final between Australia and England at Edgbaston.
Crash-tackle Bairstow and England tends to spin off its axis. Drag down Warner and Australia's top order seems like a ship without a rudder.
Each man knows the other inside out.
If Australia's match-planners don't consult the eagle-eyed Warner about Bairstow they have failed in their duty and the same must be said of England's plan for Warner.
If there is a crack - a certain ball, a special field placing, a bowling match-up - they will know it. This is the match of no secrets. Every detail that matters must be slapped on the table.
For all the talk about Australia's changes with the inclusion of Peter Handscomb and perhaps Matt Wade, the openers are the men with the game's destiny in their hands.
The Warner-Bairstow feud-friendship is one of the most intriguing in cricket.
It was widely rumoured they fell out over a sledging issue during the last Ashes series in Australia and teammates of both men were captivated by the sight of them glove-punching as they recently opened the batting for Sunrisers Hyderabad during the Indian Premier League.
"He was a very good teammate, he passed on a lot of knowledge about local bowlers, game plans, pitches, everything,'' Bairstow said of Warner.
Watching @jbairstow21 & @davidwarner31 bat. Must say everything about their partnership has been extraordinary. Some serious shots and hard running between the wickets in this heat. Truly remarkable...#SRHvRCB pic.twitter.com/X4Xl1fpfv1— Sachin Tendulkar (@sachin_rt) March 31, 2019
"He was excellent. We can say hello now. We did not have a connection before, but now we've played together and done well together and had a good partnership it will make a difference.
"We spent five weeks together having dinner and coffees. It changes things but it will still be England versus Australia."
If you could jump into a time capsule and take a sneak peak at the scorecard for Edgbaston, chances are the tale of the opening batsmen will tell the story of the match.
Warner and Finch versus Bairstow and powerhouse Jason Roy. If either pair dominates, history tells us so will their team.
Bairstow and Roy have made nine century stands in England and their side has won all nine games.
The two times England had major opening stands against them in this tournament - by Australia and Pakistan - they lost badly.
England, once so dour and desperate, have morphed into the broadsworded cavaliers of white ball cricket.
Their run rate since the last World Cup is easily better than any other team in the world.
But like so many bully boys with a swagger they are superb frontrunners but not so good when things are thrown back in their face - it's hard to have a sword-fight when your back is pinned to the wall.
Challenge them, slow them down or make them chase a decent total and you can beat them.
History is sending all sort of mixed messages about this game.
Australia have played seven World Cup semi-finals and lost none.
Put them in a World Cup semi and they become Rafael Nadal on clay. They just find a way.
But England could say the same about Edgbaston, the ground where they have won 10 games in a row, where the Ashes tide famously turned England's way in 2005, where Ian Botham famously took 5-1 in an Ashes Test in 1981.
The Birmingham ground is such a favourite for the locals it might as well be Buckingham Palace with a set of stumps in the plush front garden.
Edgbaston crowds have special energy and boisterousness.
They feel close because they are (the smallest boundary is 59 metres, a decent AFL torpedo kick) and the intimacy enlivens the local team and intimidates visitors.
They become very loud very quickly. It's as if they are shouting "this is our turf, our party'' because it often is.
England have never won the Cup but this team is no ordinary England.
Their rampaging batsmen have scored seven centuries this campaign compared to 11 in the previous 11 Cups when they were often timid and tormented.
The potential for an Australian player to be an instant hero is immense.
Peter Handscomb, whose late father John was an English minor county cricketer who was born 100 kilometres from the ground where Peter will play against England, had endured all sorts of criticism about his home made technique which will face its ultimate test in the biggest match of his career.
Matthew Wade looked done and dusted as an international cricketer but his batting revival has been so good that he is on the verge of being promoted for his willow-work alone.
Wade has never been the most popular cricket but he has fought his way through testicular cancer, selection dramas, form issues with himself and a malfunctioning Test team to be in the cusp of an astonishing recall.
The World Cup is made for big dreams. This time they might just come true.
Australia (2nd) 14pts, W: 7 L: 2 NRR: +0.868
England (4th) 12pts, W: 6 L: 3 NRR: +1.152
When the two sides met in the group stage it was so much more than a 64-run group-stage thrashing for Australia. It was an emphatic tactical tick for coach Justin Langer and his polarising game plan.
Australia's 'build-before-you-bash' game style trumped England's 'go-for-broke' batting approach.
Aaron Finch scored a century as Australia set England 286 to win, before a first ODI five wicket haul from Jason Behrendorff and the toe crunching yorkers of Mitchell Starc blew England away at the home of cricket.
Aaron Finch v Eoin Morgan
Morgan has been at the helm of England's revival as a one-day international side, leading them to the top of the rankings and to their first World Cup semi-final for 27 years.
The 32-year-old batsman assured home fans and pundits that England would not buckle under pressure after wobbling in the league stage.
Morgan stayed true to his word, masterminding victories over India and New Zealand and is now two wins away from making history.
Aaron Finch has let his bat do the talking, taking Australia to their sixth semi-final in seven tournaments.
The opener amassed 507 runs, with two hundreds and three fifties, as the five-time champions won seven of their nine league games to finish second in the 10-team group table.
But, with the pressure ratcheted up a notch, can the skipper inspire his side to another win against England after a comprehensive victory against the host nation in the group phase?
David Warner v Jonny Bairstow
Bairstow was the key man in England's revival at the end of the group phase, hitting two dominant centuries to haul the hosts into the semi-finals.
The opener hit 111 in the match against India and then smashed another century against New Zealand. Reunited with opening partner Jason Roy, Bairstow threatens to be a thorn in Australia's side at Edgbaston.
Left-handed David Warner was Bairstow's teammate for Sunrisers Hyderabad in the 2019 Indian Premier League and the pair were prolific.
Since then, Warner has returned to international cricket in triumph following a ball-tampering incident that saw him banned for 12 months.
He has hit three hundreds and three fifties at the World Cup to stack up 638 runs in nine matches, leading Australia's charge.
Mitchell Starc v Jofra Archer
Starc has been a lethal weapon for Australia at the World Cup, claiming 26 wickets with a strike rate of 19.2.
The left-armer's ability to strike early and stem the flow of runs will be crucial against an English top-order that has returned to top form.
Jofra Archer, 24, has combined with senior paceman Chris Woakes to give the home side a lethal new-ball pair that Australia will be wary of.
Archer remains the go-to man in England's search for an early wicket - the Barbados-born paceman has claimed 17 wickets in nine matches.
His ability to bowl at genuine pace gives Morgan's team a cutting edge with which to attack Australia's key men at the top of the order - Warner, Finch and Steve Smith