During Australia’s wretched run in ODIs over 2017 and 2018 there was a heavy focus on the side’s feeble batting.
What was comparatively overlooked was the lack of strike power they possessed with the ball through the middle of the innings.
This is the period during which spinners are key. It’s the period when top teams India and England stall the opposition’s momentum with their slow bowlers. Australia, meanwhile, were getting very few wickets out of their tweakers, with leggie Adam Zampa in a major form trough, and finger spinners Nathan Lyon and Ashton Agar lacking penetration.
They could not go close to replicating the efforts of Indian spin pair Kuldeep Yadav and Yuzvendra Chahal, or the England combination of Adil Rashid and Moeen Ali.
Never was this more apparent than across the back-to-back ODI series against England last year, during which Australia registered a woeful 1-9 win-loss record.
Across those ten ODIs, England got a whopping 39 wickets out of Rashid and Moeen, who continually proved both frugal and penetrative in the crucial 10 to 40 over period in the middle of an ODI innings.
Australia, quite incredibly, earned just seven wickets from their specialist spinners in those same ten matches. The difference in threat posed by the spinners from each side was phenomenal, with the English slow bowlers taking a wicket every 4.4 overs, compared to every 13.6 overs for the Australian spinners.
The means the English spinners were literally three times more effective than their Aussie counterparts in terms of strike rate.
While the English spin pair averaged 25 across those two series, Australia’s specialist tweakers averaged a horrendous 74. Now, it must be said that the Australian spinners faced the harder task given England possessed the far superior batting line-up.
But the consistent inability of the Australian tweakers to make breakthroughs in the middle overs placed enormous pressure on their fast bowling colleagues. This was the case across most of 2017 and 2018 as Australia tumbled into an unprecedented form trough.
It was particularly evident in the final ten overs when Australia’s quicks were commonly butchered at the death by batting line-ups which had been put under no pressure during the middle overs. Quite obviously, the only way to limit the carnage created by elite ODI batting units like England and India is by taking wickets.
Against these sides, if your spinners have no impact and so your opponent heads into the last ten overs with set batsmen at the crease and wickets in hand, the damage inflicted will be fatal.
Consider the case of India, who have been a dominant ODI team over the past two years. Their single greatest strength in that time has not been their incredible top three – which may be the best in history – but rather the way in which Kuldeep and Chahal have consistently taken wickets in the middle overs.
At his best, this is just what Zampa does. The South Australian is a natural wicket taker in white ball cricket. This much was clear from his first year playing for Australia, 2016, when he was the leading ODI wicket taker worldwide with 30 wickets at a fantastic rate of 1.6 wickets per match.
With Zampa hoarding wickets in the middle overs, Australia had a terrific 2016 finishing with a 17-11 win-loss record. Then over 2017 and 2018, as Zampa’s form nosedived and he missed a lot of matches, Australia were awful winning just seven of their 28 ODIs.
Now Zampa is back in fine touch and Australia, not surprisingly, are on a sharp upward curve. He has averaged 1.6 wickets per match from his 11 ODIs this year, coinciding with massively improved performances by Australia. In 2017 and 2018, when Zampa lost his way, he largely abandoned his googly and started bowling very flat.
This year he is trusting his wrong ‘un once more, is varying his pace and trajectory nicely, and has once again become a major threat for Australia in the middle overs.
With Pat Cummins in scorching form with the new ball and gun death bowler Mitchell Starc returning from injury, Australia’s bowling attack may soon have all three phases of the innings well covered. Zampa is the glue that binds it all together.