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Ignore ICC rankings, Australia's still the team to beat at the World Cup

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Expert
1st April, 2019
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If the ICC team and player world rankings were the definitive guidelines to World Cup chances, Aaron Finch’s troops will be wasting their time turning up in England.

Despite winning their last eight ODIs with no Steve Smith, David Warner, Mitchell Starc, and Josh Hazlewood, Australia is still only the fifth best ODI team on the planet behind England, India, New Zealand, and South Africa.

Finch is the ‘best’ Australia batsman on a lowly-ranked 21 from Usman Khawaja 25, while Pat Cummins is the seventh-ranked ODI bowler from Hazlewood on 12.

On those recognitions, the best Australia could hope for would be to win the thanks for coming award.

But they are a better outfit than that.

Aaron Finch of Australia bats

Aaron Finch of Australia bats. (Photo by Robert Cianflone/Getty Images)

For starters, Khawaja (769 at 59.15), and Finch (634 at 52.83), are the two leading ODI batsmen in the world this calendar year ahead of world number one Virat Kohli’s 611 at 55.54.

Peter Handscomb is sixth with 479 at 43.54, Glenn Maxwell ninth with 464 at 41.63, and Shaun Marsh tenth with 435 at 48.33.

Among the top 12, Maxwell is second only to Chris Gayle in the strike rate stakes with 126.51 to 134.17 as the leading master blasters.

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The only disappointment is another potential master blaster in Marcus Stoinis on 242 at 30.25, which has him outside the top X1, and just in the 15-man World Cup squad, which should look like this, in batting order:

Aaron Finch (c), David Warner, Usman Khawaja, Steve Smith, Glenn Maxwell, Shaun Marsh, Peter Handscomb to keep, Pat Cummins, Mitchell Starc, Jhye Richardson, and Adam Zampa with the extra four Alex Carey, Nathan Lyon, Josh Hazlewood and Ashton Agar.

It was hard to leave out Stoinis, Coulter-Nile, Kane Richardson, and Jason Behrendorff out of the squad, as the attack isn’t as strong as the batting.

Cummins will be the undisputed spearhead with 17 ODI scalps this year at a miserly 14.29, an economy rate of 4.39, and a strike rate of just 19.5 – the last three stats the best in the world this year.

Zampa has taken an extra wicket with 18 at 32.16, and a good economy rate of 4.39 for a wrist spinner, and would welcome some spin support from either Lyon, or Agar, whose career economy rate is a respectable 5.75, while Jhye Richardson’s 17 wickets have cost only 21.23 apiece.

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Starc has a welcome habit of recovering from both injury, and lack of form when the big games come around, and there’s nothing bigger than a World Cup.

To prove the point, four years ago the big bloke was Player of the Tournament with 22 wickets at 10.18.

Starc celebrates a wicket

Australia’s Mitchell Starc. (AP Photo/Eranga Jayawardena)

But there is a potential problem in Australia’s quest to retain the coveted trophy – their batting dot balls.

In the five ODI whitewash over a depleted Pakistan in the UAE, dot balls were alarmingly high on wickets that were a road.

In the first at Sharjar, won by Australia by eight wickets;
Dot balls – 124
Rubs 1-3 – 127
Fours – 17
Sixes – 6
Extras – 20
Balls faced – 294.

Second ODI at Sharjar, that Australia won by eight wickets:
Dot balls – 126
Runs 1-3 – 120
Fours – 19
Sixes – 8
Extras – 14
Balls faced – 287

Third ODI at Abu Dhabi, Australia won 80 runs:
Dot balls – 142
Runs 1-3 – 125
Fours – 23
Sixes – 3
Extras – 7
Balls faced – 300

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Fourth ODI at Dubai, where Australia scraped home by six runs:
Dot balls – 140
Runs 1-3 – 126
Fours – 23
Sixes – 4
Extras – 7
Balls faced – 300

Fifth and final ODI at Dubai, Australia by 20:
Dot balls – 131
Runs 1-3 – 102
Fours – 39
Sixes – 6
Extras – 22
Balls faced – 300.

Total those stats:
Dot balls – 663
Runs 1-3 – 600
Fours – 121
Sixes – 27
Extras – 70
Balls faced – 1481

Dot balls on road surfaces in the UAE accounted for a massive 45 per cent of the total deliveries, which begs the question how much more difficult will it be for the Australian batsmen to rotate the strike on England World Cup tracks that will turn?

Fix that, and there’s no doubt Australia is the team to beat.

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