Aussies chase the 'Q', say English hijinks won't ensue

The vagaries of the T20 World Cup's draws and seedings means England could find their future at Australia's mercy this week

On the verge of advancing to the next stage of the T20 World Cup, Australia have ruled out intentionally slipping a dagger into England by conspiring to use contentious group-stage rules against the defending champions.

Besting Namibia on Tuesday evening (Wednesday morning AEST) in Antigua in their first match against the small African nation in more than two decades will secure the Aussies' path to the Super Eights.

If qualification is secured, however, Australia will then have no incentive to win their final match against Scotland, whose win over Oman now has them sitting on top of the Group B standings.

England are facing the prospect of an early elimination unless they can beat Oman and Namibia by healthy margins, while hoping Australia also beat the Scots. A win for Richard Berrington's men over Australia would be enough to sink England while even a narrow defeat could be enough.

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Scotland have the added advantage of their match against Australia being the final game of Group B, on Saturday evening (Sunday morning AEST) in St Lucia, meaning they will know exactly what margin they will need to put them through.

But Australia coach Andrew McDonald poured cold water on the prospect of his team purposely engineering a result that knocks out England.

"Not really, not really focused on England and where they're at," McDonald told reporters at the North Sound stadium named after one of Antigua's greatest exports, former West Indies star Sir Viv Richards.

"We've played them and moved past them and we'll do what's important to us within those games. We haven't got the option of talking about that at the moment – (beating) Namibia first and foremost (is the priority).

"England clearly have got their own work to do in their next couple of games. We were put in a similar position at the last World Cup (in 2022) where we had to chase net run-rate, it's always difficult, you're always depending on other results.

"It's not a nice situation to be in, but that's for them to work through."

The situation is not unprecedented – Australia infamously contrived to knock New Zealand out of the 1999 World Cup by batting slowly in a group match against West Indies, a scheme that failed – but the interesting wrinkle at this tournament is the newly introduced concept of pre-determined seedings.

World Cup formats are tweaked tournament to tournament, but it has been standard in previous editions for teams that finish on top of a group to be rewarded by then playing a lower-ranked team in the next phase.

That is not the case at this event, with the ICC making the unusual decision to allocate seedings for Super Eights qualification, allowing fans to plan their travel for matches and help with the movement of teams around the Caribbean (no second-round games are being played in the USA).

Ranked below England coming into the tournament, Australia will qualify as the second seed even if they finish on top of their group. If Scotland take top-seeded England's place in the Super Eights, they go through as the first seed, while the key benefit for Australia with England's elimination would of course be avoiding a potential semi-final with the dangerous – if currently out of sorts – defending champs.

McDonald did reiterate his view that the fact a team having a successful first round counts for little in this tournament could be something for the ICC to review.

"You don't carry your net run-rate through to the Super Eights, which is a little bit interesting – the whole tournament starts again," he said.

"I would have liked to have seen the benefit of (winning in) the early rounds and what you were able to do in the early rounds (rewarded).

"Clearly we're seeded at No.2, we can't change that seeding so it doesn't change what happens (going into) the Super Eights in terms of seedings.

"We'll work through that after Namibia. We've got Namibia in front of us and that's our focus – not England."

Like it was against England at Kensington Oval, a stiff cross breeze is again expected to be a major factor at the 12,000-capacity venue on the northern side of an island popular with honeymooners and which its tourism marketers like to boast offers a different beach for every day of the year.

The pitch for Sunday's Scotland-Oman match will be re-used.

New arrivals Jake Fraser-McGurk and Matthew Short, Australia's travelling reserves for this tour, were among the squad members to get a glimpse of Antigua's premier cricket ground on Monday, though the pair spent most of the optional session batting in the practice nets that bask in the shadow of Sir Viv's gleaming statue.

Captain Mitch Marsh may be ready to resume bowling by the Scotland match, but will remain a batter only against Namibia, who Australia trounced in a practice match in Trinidad before the tournament.

Ensuring qualification will be their priority but Australia could look to give their unused squad members – Cameron Green, Ashton Agar and Josh Inglis – some game-time across their next two games.

"We'll play our strongest XI for the opposition and the conditions, and where players are at as well," said McDonald.

"We've got a short turnaround for the England game into this one, there's travel involved, so it's taking all that in.

"After we've firmed up qualification we can start to look at that potential (to rotate the squad) if (we) feel like it's necessary. We know if we win this one, we get the 'Q' ('qualified') next to our names, so we don't want to look too much further ahead at this stage."

2024 ICC Men's T20 World Cup

Australia's squad: Mitch Marsh (c), Ashton Agar, Pat Cummins, Tim David, Nathan Ellis, Cameron Green, Josh Hazlewood, Travis Head, Josh Inglis, Glenn Maxwell, Mitchell Starc, Marcus Stoinis, Matthew Wade, David Warner, Adam Zampa

Australia's Group B fixtures

June 6: Defeated Oman by 39 runs

June 9: Defeated England by 36 runs

June 12: v Namibia, Sir Vivian Richards Stadium, Antigua, 10.30am AEST

June 16: v Scotland, Daren Sammy Stadium, St Lucia, 10.30am AEST

Super Eights, finals to follow if Australia qualify

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