2019 Cricket World Cup: The fine edge between England's 'heroes' and Australia's 'villians'
Are Australia's 'villains' about the become 'heroes'? Photo: Getty Images

2019 Cricket World Cup: The fine edge between England's 'heroes' and Australia's 'villians'

Lord's will play host to one of cricket's greatest rivalries on Tuesday.

chris-lincoln
Chris Lincoln

When England and Australia go head-to-head on Tuesday, hopefully not literally as Jonny Bairstow and Cameron Bancroft did in the infamous Ashes series of 2017, there will be several sub-plots to an already rich novel of sporting rivalry.

Lord's will explode with home passion whilst Australia will undoubtedly receive a vocal reaction for the first time in the tournament. Jeers will replace the silence that has injected their batting prowess and fielding abilities on the World Cup trail. The Aussies feed off negativity, vocal or not.

Laying down the markers

Whilst the eleven wearing gold will be the villains of the piece, those in light blue will be emphasised as heroes, and undoubtedly need to employ a superhero performance after recent defeats to Pakistan and Sri Lanka.

England captain, Eoin Morgan, has already told the BBC: "I don't think I could do anything, or should do anything, to try to influence the fans to change their minds." His message relating to the ball tampering incident involving David Warner and Steve Smith.

Such words echo the sentiments of former Aussie coach, Darren Lehmann, who encouraged fans Down Under to make Stuart Broad cry in the 2013 Ashes.

And the similarities between the two cricket powerhouses run deep into the engine of the rivalry.

Let's not forget that England were the villains only 18 months ago. A wretched tour that saw Bairstow instigate that headbutt moment, Ben Duckett pour a drink over teammate James Anderson's head and the overhanging issues surrounding a brawl involving Ben Stokes.

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Quietly restoring faith

Performances rather than words have always been the best way to respond in cricket and the quartet of aforementioned players in their nations' respective World Cup squads have done just that. 

Warner is second only to Shakib Al Hasan in runs for the tournament, whilst Stokes has an average above 50. Smith boasts three half centuries in six matches, Bairstow two, both of whom have averages above 36. All four have been pantomime villains on foreign soil; all four are hated by the opposition; two of them hate each other.

In fact, there is barely anything between these two sides, emphasised by the mere two points separating their standings in the table. 

The batting style is almost symmetrical. The elegant upper order stars - Smith vs Joe Root - Iron Man. The powerhouses - Glenn Maxwell vs Jos Buttler - Hulk. The dangerous openers with a bit of everything - Aaron Finch vs Bairstow - Batman. But England are missing their powerful stroke player in the form of Jason Roy, a-la Warner but with a bit more aggression during this campaign - Superman?

The bowlers are a throwback to yesteryear. 86 years previous, The Bodyline Series became infamous for a contest of hostile fast bowling. Fast-forward and Lord's will see the three most rapid bowlers in the tournament grace the wicket as Mark Wood, Mitchell Starc and Jofra Archer turn up the heat. The latter two already top the charts with 15 wickets to their name. Flash.

The heroes always win?

The heroes always defeat the villains and several weeks ago this would be the expected outcome. An untouchable England side with superpowers to dismantle a transitioning Australian squad. These heroes have beaten their villainous rivals in ten of the last eleven meetings.

Every hero has a slip, flirting with the possibility of extinction. A moment where the villains take an upperhand. England are suffering within that peril.

Yet Australia are already enjoying that premise and the irony for England is that defeat could take them some way to being the villains in front of an expectant home crowd. Could Australia be classed as heroes if they go all the way in the competition against the odds?

Whilst a loss would not end the tournament for the favourites, it would supply a glancing blow to the egos of the England squad and their standing in the table. 

There is a fine line between success and failure; a fine edge between taking the position of hero or villain. England must deliver.

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