England make a mockery of pressure by pulverising Australia amid Edgbaston party

By Sports Desk July 11, 2019

Much of the talk around England and Australia's Cricket World Cup semi-final focused on one word – pressure.

And, with serial World Cup winners and reigning champions Australia perhaps more intent on Ashes glory later on this tour, the majority of those discussions centred on England.

Would they wilt at the semi-final stage? Could they chase down a total? Would the expectancy of the Edgbaston faithful weigh heavy on their shoulders?

The answer to all those questions was a resounding 'no', as Eoin Morgan's men stormed into a Lord's final against New Zealand with an eight-wicket thrashing on Thursday in front of an increasingly raucous crowd that belted out 'Sweet Caroline' with intensifying vigour as the end drew near.

A developing trend at these finals has seen sides win the toss, opt to bat, post a score and subsequently squeeze the opposition on deteriorating pitches.

Coming into this encounter, 17 of the previous 21 matches had been won by the side batting first – a sequence that included England's victories over India and New Zealand to secure their place in the last four.

On both occasions, the hosts went big and comfortably defended their totals, but the two prior outings had seen altogether different outcomes.

England failed to chase 233 against Sri Lanka at Headingley and were well short as Australia cruised to a 64-run win at Lord's.

Before the tournament, Morgan's men were seen as the team that could overhaul any score, thumping Pakistan 4-0 in an ODI series that featured two successful chases in excess of 340.

Those losses to Sri Lanka and Australia changed that perception, at least among pundits and the public, and another P-word – pressure – became a significant factor in the equation.

But that was nowhere to be seen at Edgbaston on Thursday, as Australia were rolled out for 223 before a below-par target was overhauled with 107 balls remaining.

Once again, England owed much to Jason Roy and Jonny Bairstow, who added 124 for the opening stand inside 18 overs – their fourth successive century partnership.

In Wednesday's media conference, Aaron Finch talked up the importance of the first 10 overs. Whoever started the better would likely go on and win, was the suggestion.

The Australia captain got his first wish in winning the toss and opting to bat, only to fall to Jofra Archer for a golden duck and then watch as David Warner and Peter Handscomb swiftly joined him back in the dressing room. After 10 overs, Australia were 27-3 and had struck only three fours.

England, by contrast, had surpassed that tally inside six overs and had even added a Roy maximum for good measure en route to being 50-0 at the end of the first powerplay.

The chat in the media box during the innings break was that 224 could prove a challenging target – after all, England had failed in similar circumstances against Sri Lanka while there were lessons to be learned from New Zealand's semi-final win over India 24 hours previously, when the Black Caps successfully defended 239.

But Roy and Bairstow strode out as if this was a bilateral series bash-fest, an approach underlined by the former launching Nathan Lyon's first ball for six and reverse sweeping for four later in the same over.

Struggling to stem the flow, Finch turned to the occasional leg-spin of Steve Smith. Roy responded by hammering three straight sixes, the third an absolute monster into the top tier.

The early swing Chris Woakes and Archer had enjoyed was not evident for Mitchell Starc and Jason Behrendorff, while England's openers took full advantage as Roy produced another performance that will only intensify calls for him to be included in the Ashes squad.

Ahead of a World Cup final, that is a discussion for another day, but this display should at least put to bed all the prior talk of pressure and whether it would overwhelm this England team.

Exactly a year on from the men's football team's semi-final heartache, the Edgbaston crowd sang 'Cricket's coming home'. That is yet to be decided but, on this evidence, if England are found wanting at Lord's, it is unlikely to be due to the gravity of the occasion.

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    One word was prevalent ever since Shane Lowry surged into contention at The Open this weekend. Oakmont.

    "Oakmont was so long ago and I was a lot younger," Lowry said after moving into a co-share of the lead on Friday.

    "I feel like if I get the opportunity this week I'll be better. It definitely won't affect me, what happened in Oakmont."

    Amid the chanting, raucous cheers and sheer euphoria that greeted Lowry walking off the 18th green at the conclusion of the greatest round of his life at Royal Portrush on Saturday, there was an unsettling sense of deja vu due to his four-stroke advantage.

    Three years ago, Lowry held the same lead going into the final 18 holes of the U.S. Open. He had one hand on the trophy, a major breakthrough in his grasp.

    Yet in golf things are never that simple and that fateful Sunday just outside of Pittsburgh was dragged back to the fore for Lowry this week.

    The pressure of holding a significant lead in a major for the first time was evident. Lowry never recovered from a difficult start at Oakmont and struggled to a six-over 76, eventually finishing three shots adrift of Dustin Johnson – who himself had to endure a nervy penalty-shot controversy to win what is to date his only victory in one of golf's big four.

    However, at Portrush, Lowry only fleetingly betrayed his insistence that no mental scars remained from the most painful of experiences. A wayward drive down the first and an approach into the greenside bunker leading to an opening bogey would surely have had his heart rate skyrocketing.

    Lowry is a different man to three years ago, though. He has a young daughter, Iris. His priorities and perspective have changed.

    "If I'm sitting here this time tomorrow evening it will be one of the biggest things that ever happened to me, there's no denying that," Lowry commented in a news conference on Saturday.

    "But I just felt at the time in Oakmont my golf meant a lot more to me back then than it does now. I'm not saying that it doesn't mean everything, it's my career. But I've got certain things in my life that make it different. I've got family now. No matter what, my family will be waiting for me."

    It has been a long journey back to this point. After missing the cut at last year's Open, for the fourth time in succession, Lowry slumped to a ranking of 92nd. 

    Following the first round at Carnoustie 12 months ago, there was a pretty blunt declaration from Lowry.

    "I'm not enjoying my golf at the minute, and my golf is not really enjoying me and that's the way it is, and it's hard to take," he said.

    There was a recognition change was needed. Lowry split with long-time caddie Dermot Byrne in September and there has been a huge upturn in fortunes with new man on the bag Brian 'Bo' Martin, who grew up around two hours away from Portrush in Ardglass.

    Victory at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship in January, after which an emotional Lowry spoke about a "tough couple of years on the golf course", preceded top-10s at the RBC Heritage, US PGA Championship and Canadian Open.

    "With Bo I find I play golf now like there's no consequences, you know what I mean? You need to hit shots like there's no consequence," explained Lowry.

    "What's the worst thing that can happen? If I swing the club here and hit the ball, no matter where it goes, what is the worst thing that can happen to you? That's kind of the mindset he brings into it. That's when I play my best. That's the way I am. I think we gel together nicely that way.

    "I think as a golfer you have such a long career, well, hopefully you have such a long career, I've been [a professional for] 10 years now and it's just a rollercoaster.

    "I think the reason I'm so good mentally now is I feel like I know how to take the downs."

    There was no bigger down in Lowry's career than Oakmont three years ago. Now, standing a Champion Golfer after an astounding six-shot victory, there is no greater high.

    That it should happen at Portrush, an Irishman winning on Irish soil, makes it only more special.

    It was for so long unthinkable the tournament could be held here as the days of the Northern Ireland conflict, a period of history known as The Troubles, devastatingly split the country.

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    McIlroy, of course, did not even make the weekend and it was instead left to Lowry, from County Offaly in the Republic of Ireland, to slip under the radar and earn the acclaim of an adoring crowd.

    He will, at some point after what will no doubt be a hefty celebration, go to bed with the Claret Jug, fresh in the knowledge the demons of Oakmont have been truly banished.

  • The Open 2019: How the final round unfolded as Shane Lowry stormed to Portrush triumph The Open 2019: How the final round unfolded as Shane Lowry stormed to Portrush triumph

    Shane Lowry held his nerve magnificently under pressure to claim his first major title at The Open.

    The Irishman secured a hugely popular success at Royal Portrush, finishing six shots clear of Tommy Fleetwood after following up his sensational third-round 63 with a one-over 72 that was arguably even more impressive given the challenging weather conditions and the magnitude of Sunday's final 18 holes.

    Lowry had begun the fourth round leading by four at 16 under, with Fleetwood his nearest challenger.

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    1:47pm BST - The final pairing of Lowry and Fleetwood tee off in rising winds, with Rickie Fowler and JB Holmes having already gone out of bounds on the first. Lowry and Fleetwood both avoid that horrible fate, although the Irishman's tee shot is a nervous one into the rough on the left.

    2pm - Having struggled badly on the opening hole, finding the bunker with his second and then coming up short with both his third and fourth shots, Lowry shows resilience to drain a six-footer for his bogey. That means his lead is only cut by one stroke, with Fleetwood having missed a presentable birdie opportunity.

    2:26pm - Lowry's lead becomes four strokes once more as Fleetwood's cold start with the putter continues, the Englishman missing a short par-saver on the third. Meanwhile, Lee Westwood picks up a shot at the fifth - having earlier pitched in for birdie at the third - to trail by five.

    2:39pm - The leader stretches his advantage over Fleetwood to five, birdieing the fourth after a fine approach shot. In the penultimate group, Brooks Koepka makes a spectacular eagle on the fifth. However, that comes after he had bogeyed each of the first four holes. At seven under for the tournament, he is nine behind Lowry.

    2:51pm - As conditions worsen at Portrush, Fleetwood can only birdie the fifth despite leaving himself a fairly short eagle putt. Lowry matches his partner's three to reach 17 under and remain five clear.

    3:22pm - Fleetwood gets up and down from a greenside bunker at the seventh to save par, but Lowry makes a tap-in birdie, his third gain in four holes. At 18 under, he leads by six and is in command of the tournament.

    3:57pm - After he and Fleetwood had each bogeyed the eighth amid a burst of torrential rain, Lowry gives up another shot at the ninth to turn in a level-par 36. A fine up-and-down sees Fleetwood end the outward nine with a par and sit five off the pace, with Westwood two further back after a bogey at 11. Everyone else appears to be out of the running.

    4:31pm - Lowry's wobble continues as he follows up a gutsy par save at the start of his back nine with a third bogey in four holes at 11. However, he remains five clear of Fleetwood, whose putter let him down from close range at the 10th. Westwood's race is run as he slides back into the group at seven under, eight off the pace.

    4:51pm - Fleetwood reduces his deficit to four shots for the first time since the third hole, courtesy of a two-putt birdie at the par-five 12th.

    5:20pm - Despite making his fifth bogey of the day at the 14th, Lowry finds himself five clear once more as Fleetwood drops two shots. After finding a bunker off the tee and heavy rough with his second, the Englishman looks to have left himself with too much to do.

    5:32pm - Lowry makes a brilliant birdie at the 15th to move further clear, extending his lead to six with just three holes to play. The crowd favourite celebrates with a determined fist pump.

    6:09pm - The crowd at Royal Portrush goes wild as a beaming Lowry finishes with his third par in a row to complete a round of 71 and triumph by six strokes.

  • Lowry's Open glory a tonic to Rory's sob story Lowry's Open glory a tonic to Rory's sob story

    There was one name on everybody's lips at the start of the week at Royal Portrush - Rory McIlroy.

    Cast into a leading role he seemed eager to shun, McIlroy winning The Open Championship on home soil was the story everybody wanted to write, to read, and to talk about for generations to come.

    Too bad, then, that he shot a quadruple-bogey eight on the very first hole to slide from pre-tournament favourite to a likely bet to miss the cut.

    The incomplete miracle of his stunning second-round revival aside, McIlroy's race was effectively run inside 15 minutes of madness on Thursday.

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    A couple of rounds of 67 had the Irishman in the hunt for a maiden major. Here was Royal Portrush's new leading man. 

    On Saturday, he lived up to that billing - and indeed went some way beyond it - with a round of golf that he may never surpass.

    It read on the scorecard as a blemish-free 63 - impressive enough even by the raw data - but the way in which he came to sign for that number was breathtaking.

    He hit 17 of the 18 greens in regulation and when the chasing pack were threatening he accelerated once more, nailing birdies at 15, 16 and 17 despite having made no gains on those holes over the first two rounds.

    That run, including a mighty close call with another birdie at the last, worked the Portrush crowd into a frenzy. Where 24 hours prior there had been sympathetic applause for McIlroy's closing par, which sealed his fate, Lowry's tap-in four was met by a deafening roar.

    It left him four shots clear heading into Sunday and ‘Lowry!’ chants rang out around the course, which was again packed to capacity when he returned for the final round.

    Although he had let a four-stroke margin vanish in a major before, Lowry refused to wilt in abysmal conditions, just as the fans refused to let their spirits be dampened by the wind and rain that so often feel obliged to make their presence known at an Open.

    After a 68-year absence from these shores, the return of golf's oldest major to Northern Ireland was never going to be a quiet affair, but Lowry made damn sure of that fact.

    He gave the crowd - be they from Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland, or frankly anywhere on the planet - something to root for; he gave us that story to write, to read, and to talk about for generations to come.

    Now there is a different name on everyone's lips at Royal Portrush – and that name is Shane Lowry.

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