England will target Head and Henriques in do-or-die match

Ronan O'Connell Columnist

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    Australia’s all-rounders shape as a potential weakness today against England’s ballistic batting line-up in the do-or-die Champions Trophy match.

    Australia must defeat the hosts to be certain of progressing to the semi-finals along with England after their first two matches against New Zealand and Bangladesh were washed out.

    England rely heavily on their batting, with an ODI strategy of racking up massive totals to cover for the fragility of their bowling unit.

    While Australia have an elite front-line bowling attack, the matter of which players bowled the remaining complement of 10 overs each innings shaped as a problem leading into this tournament.

    The injury to Mitch Marsh robbed Australia of their best 50-over all-rounder, a solid seam bowler who can be trusted to deliver up to 10 overs if needed.

    Offie Travis Head and medium pacer Moises Henriques are far weaker options with the ball, yet they’ve managed to sneak through Australia’s first two matches without copping much punishment.

    Australia would be content for that pair to concede up to 6.5 runs per over in batting-friendly conditions, safe in the knowledge that their four frontline bowlers should be far more frugal.

    Instead Henriques and Head have been surprisingly economical in this tournament, giving up just five runs per over. They may have only taken two wickets from their 22 overs, but that won’t faze Australia, who have sufficient strike power among their front liners.

    I had assumed opposition batting line-ups would target Head and Henriques, who are by far the weakest links in the Aussie attack, yet both New Zealand and Sri Lanka showed them a curious amount of respect, happy to milk ones and twos for the most part, rather than seeking to hit them out of the attack.

    This must have been a welcome surprise for the Aussie pair, but they won’t get the same gentle treatment from England.

    This English batting unit is unique among ODI teams in that it typically plays with heavy aggression throughout the full 50 overs – as opposed to most other sides, which aim to bat steadily and build a platform from which they can explode in the final 15 overs.

    Henriques’ stump-to-stump medium pace will look particularly appetising for the likes of powerful English opener Alex Hales, star number three Joe Root and mayhem-making keeper-batsman Jos Buttler.

    Meanwhile, Head usually prefers to bowl to left-handers – but in destructive all-rounder Ben Stokes, skipper Eoin Morgan and middle-order slugger Moeen Ali he will encounter three lefties with a history of dispatching slow bowlers.

    Head somehow got through his first seven overs while conceding a mere 18 runs against Bangladesh on Monday. The lack of aggression he met was truly bizarre.

    When opener Tamim Iqbal belatedly went after Head in his eighth over he conceded 15 runs in six balls, almost as many as he had from his previous 42 deliveries.

    The 23-year-old South Australian has improved greatly with the ball over the past 18 months. He did, however, start from a very low base as a rank part-timer, and he is still some way short of being a reliable fifth bowler like Marsh.

    Travis Head of Australia celebrates after scoring a century

    (AAP Image/David Mariuz)

    It will surprise me if England don’t plan to attack Head from his first over. This could be disruptive to Australia’s bowling plans, forcing them to revert back to frontline bowlers sooner than they would like.

    The same treatment likely awaits Henriques, a once skilful seamer who looks rusty after rarely bowling at domestic level in the past 18 months.

    Smith will be waiting for opportunities to try to rush through overs from Head and Henriques at the safest possible junctures.

    Because if either of them are forced to bowl while a Buttler or Stokes is in full flight, Australia could easily find their all-rounders conceding 80 runs from their 10 overs.

    The heavy focus tonight will be on the tantalising battle between England’s ferocious hitters and Australia’s quality quicks – but how Australia’s all-rounders fare in their required 10 overs could be the tipping point in this blockbuster match.

    Ronan O
    Ronan O'Connell

    Ronan O'Connell has been a journalist for well over 13 years, including nine at daily newspapers in WA. He now traverses the world as a travel photojournalist, contributing words and photography to more than 30 magazines and newspapers including CNN, BBC, The Toronto Star, The Guardian, The South China Morning Post, The Irish Examiner and The Australian Financial Review. Check out his work and follow him on Twitter @ronanoco