Rashid holds the key for England after dumping Australia out


They say it's a batsman game, nowhere more so than the limited-overs arena, but Adil Rashid's leg-spin holds the key for England if they are to win the Champions Trophy.

Eoin Morgan's side took a major step towards the title by eliminating Group A rivals Australia at Edgbaston on Saturday, Ben Stokes and the skipper sharing an explosive 159-run union to dump Steve Smith's side out of the competition and gain a measure of revenge for one of their painful thrashings at the 2015 World Cup.

Morgan's revitalisation of the 50-over side has been thrilling, chiefly down to a newfound lust for run-getting.

Since that rancid capitulation Down Under, England have compiled their three highest ODI totals, breaking 400 for the first time against New Zealand at Edgbaston in 2015 before scoring a world-record 444-3 against Pakistan last year.

However, underpinning all of this has been the guile of Rashid - by far and away England's most lethal one-day bowler since those fateful days of early 2015.

Before Saturday's Group A concluder against Australia, Rashid had 65 ODI wickets to his name - by the end of Australia's innings had had four more scalps to his name as Smith's side laboured to 277-9.

Those wickets do not tell the full story, with Rashid's ability to choke the life out of opposition innings giving Morgan's master-blasters even more free rein to go big with the bat.

This tournament gives an instructive display of Rashid's importance.

Morgan rested Rashid for game one against Bangladesh, with a battery of pacers struggling to challenge Tamim Iqbal and Mushfiqur Rahim in the middle overs as they scored 128 and 79 respectively in the Tigers' 305-6.

Such a total was, and generally will be, food and drink for England's super-charged batting, but Bangladesh's ability to keep wickets in the bank for a late-innings onslaught had pangs of angst proliferating around The Oval.

There was no such stress in Cardiff against the Black Caps as Rashid and his express-paced lieutenant Mark Wood eked out Kane Williamson and New Zealand's chances along with their pivotal skipper.

It was a similar story at Edgbaston on Saturday.

With Australia sitting pretty on 93-1 off 17 overs, Rashid's introduction immediately had the well-set Aaron Finch scrabbling around his crease and surviving a couple of sharp lbw appeals.

In what must be the closest sporting equivalent to rubbing your stomach with one hand and patting your head with the other, this time Stokes was the iron fist to fit Rashid's silk glove and backed up the spinner with express pace that left Finch befuddled and only able to throw his wicket away after a well-earned 68.

Numbers four, seven and eight: Moises Henriques, Matthew Wade and Mitchell Starc then fell to Rashid as Australia staggered through their innings.

This is not a new phenomenon. Of Rashid's 69 ODI wickets, 37 of them have been middle-order batsmen.

Wood again was brilliant and his searing pace gives England another dimension with the ball when batsmen most look to bed down.

Between them Wood and Rashid accounted for eight of the Australian wickets to fall, before Morgan and Stokes played England's strongest suit of all.

Though yet another failure for Jason Roy cannot - and in the semi-finals probably will not - be ignored, Morgan and Stokes' blistering bash-fest was a sight to behold.

Two years ago, Finch's 135 in Melbourne, Brendon McCullum's 25-ball 77 in Wellington and Kumar Sangakkara's 117 at a strike rate of 136.04 made England look like mugs. 

Nowadays, nobody inflicts wanton destruction on a cricket ball quite like Morgan's side.

Perhaps a 40-minute rain delay gave the pitch suitable zest. If so, Morgan and Stokes extracted every last drop.

Morgan drilled the first two balls after the restart for four, before sending Josh Hazlewood into the crowd in successive overs.

Stokes soon got in on the act, passing 50 with a laser-guided pull shot before atoning for his part in Morgan's slapstick run out for 87 by tonking Adam Zampa through cover to secure his third ODI hundred.

Jos Buttler also troubled those in the pricier seats with a mammoth hit as England left the Duckworth-Lewis-Stern target for dust before rain ended the contest prematurely.

Sri Lanka or Pakistan will likely stand between England and the final, where India could await for the second staging in a row.

Possessing a varied and dangerous bowling attack, voracious hunger in the field dynamite with the bat, this most unrecognisable of sides to the last 50-over tournament are relishing their new tag as standard-bearers.