It may be just a single victory, but there were positives galore for Australia from their solid win over India in the ODI series opener last night.
So dire has Australia’s form been in ODIs over the past two years that we’ve become accustomed to depressing post-match discussions focusing on tactical errors and which players laboured.
At the SCG, however, a host of Australians produced fine performances to guide the hosts to an upset win over powerhouses India.
Australia were missing basically half of the XI they are likely to field in the World Cup, with Steve Smith and David Warner banned, and pace trio Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood and Pat Cummins being rested.
In the absence of these stars, Peter Handscomb (73), Usman Khawaja (59), Shaun Marsh (54) and Marcus Stoinis (47*) stepped up with the bat, while green Western Australia quicks Jyhe Richardson (4-26) and Jason Behrendorff (2-39) were hugely impressive.
Australia showcased a new, more conservative ODI batting approach, having trialled a helter-skelter style in 2018. Last year Australia stacked their side with blasters like Chris Lynn and D’Arcy Short in an apparent effort to emulate the frenetic batting style of England, the world’s best ODI team.
With that strategy having failed comprehensively, Australia went back to go forward, reverting to an old-school, steadier mode of ODI batting. Instead of shooting for the stars and trying to thrash their way to 330-plus, they kept wickets in hand for a late charge.
In doing so they made 5-288 from their 50 overs, a total which looked perhaps 10-15 runs shy of a par score at the time but proved to be beyond India.
Khawaja and Marsh did a good job of rebuilding the Aussie innings with a 92-run stand after the early wickets of Aaron Finch (6) and Alex Carey (24) left them in trouble at 2-41.
Neither Khawaja nor Marsh relied on boundaries, content to keep the scoreboard ticking over by pushing the ones and twos nicely. Khawaja was not at his fluent best but played some lovely shots against India’s spinners. He has been starved of chances in ODIs despite owning a commanding List A record and has a gilded opportunity in this series to push his World Cup credentials.
Marsh, meanwhile, already has one foot in Australia’s World Cup squad after being their best ODI batsman over the past year, averaging 59 with three tons. He adds crucial stability to Australia’s middle order and has improved upon his ability to shift gears during an ODI innings.
Handscomb did just this wonderfully well yesterday. The Victorian took time to get his eye in, moving to 15 from 21 balls, before upping the ante smoothly. Handscomb hammered 58 from his next 39 balls without going into slog-mode. His innings of 73 from 61 balls was a mature and skilful knock.
Australia have long lacked a middle order batsman who can change seamlessly between batting responsibly and taking the bowlers on. This was a role executed with aplomb for years by the likes of Mike Hussey, Michael Clarke and George Bailey.
Handscomb has a long way to go to prove he belongs in ODIs. But he does have a style of batting which this Australia top seven needs for the sake of balance. Stoinis finished with a flourish to make 47 from 43 balls. But he should have started his charge earlier, having dawdled to 23 from 30 balls despite Australia having six wickets in the shed at that point and less than four overs left to bat.
Australia’s total of 288 suddenly looked imposing when their rookie new ball pair of Richardson and Behrendorff scythed through the Indian top order, reducing them to 3-4. First Behrendorff got a delivery to seam back in to star opener Shikhar Dhawan, trapping him LBW. Then Richardson had a slice of fortune when the world’s best ODI batsman Virat Kohli flicked a ball off his pads straight to square leg.
There was no denying the skill involved in Richardson’s next wicket, however. He bowled an out-swinger first ball to the new batsman Ambati Rayudu and followed that with an off-cutter which caught him plumb in front.
Richardson is a very mature and crafty bowler for someone so young. The 22-year-old quick later saw Dinesh Karthik advancing at him, dug the ball in and earned an inside edge which rattled the stumps. T20 has been Richardson’s primary format to this stage of his career and it has helped him learn to think on his feet while bowling.
He has shown enough in his five ODIs and seven T20Is to give cause for excitement about the kind of white ball bowler he can become given time. For now he remains a work-in-progress, but an invigorating one.
His Western Australia teammate Behrendorff looks the finished article. The left armer is an enormously-gifted bowler in all three formats but has been let down by his body. I’ve long expected him to have a major impact at the international level. Behrendorff is tall, accurate, has decent pace, gets sharp bounce, swings the ball late and boasts good changeups.
There is so much to like about him. Behrendorff may well emerge as a wildcard for Australia in the World Cup. For now, however, he just needs to stay healthy, and Australia just needs to keep winning.