The Roar
The Roar

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

Just a week out from World Cup, Australian top six still a mystery

Autoplay in... 6 (Cancel)
Up Next No more videos! Playlist is empty -
Replay
Cancel
Next
Roar Rookie
21st May, 2019
8

With the days dwindling until their first official World Cup fixture against Afghanistan on June 1, the Australian set up still finds itself grappling with the constitution of their preferred top order.

The deviants of South Africa have risen, the dark knights of Steve Smith and David Warner having made their return in national colours in the low-key warm-up matches against a depleted New Zealand outfit.

But their re-emergence has posed that unavoidable question: how will they reintegrate into a one-day batting unit that has suddenly kicked into gear in their absence?

Peter Handsbomb became the first unfortunate soul to make way and his exclusion has made things no less clear as to who will fit where in a suddenly crowded top six.

As things currently reside, Aaron Finch sits as perhaps the only certainty. The one-day captain has already indicated that he will be placing himself in one of the opening positions come June 1, which leaves the obvious counter of who will be walking out beside him.

Aaron Finch of Australia bats

(Photo by Robert Cianflone/Getty Images)

Usman Khawaja has made the secondary opening slot his own so far this year. Plonked into the ODI team at the beginning of the year, the Test No.3 was almost an afterthought. Since however, Khawaja has churned out 769 runs at 59, a dominant run of form that has demanded his inclusion for cricket’s showpiece event.

His combination with Finch, too, at the top of the order has contributed mightily to the resurgence of this Australian one-day outfit, a fact that clouds the integration of Warner back into the fold.

The easy solution would be to plug the former vice-captain back into the top of the order with Finch, but this then provides the real conundrum for selectors: not only are you splitting up an in-form and successful duo in Finch and Khawaja, but it casts a murkier cloud over who then enters at three and four.

Advertisement
Advertisement

Smith will undoubtedly fill one of the positions. He averages a stellar 52 at No.3 in ODIs, the position he has occupied most in the 50-over game.

The former skipper has the flexibility to bat either position if need be, which may not be the case for Khawaja, or indeed Warner, who’s brutality with the bat having always been favoured at the beginning of the innings.

From a reasonably small sample of ten innings, Khawaja averages only 24 when batting at first drop, a stark decline from the 53 he currently averages opening the batting.

To complicate matters further, Khawaja has never batted lower than first drop in ODI cricket, and to keep him in the XI would most likely require Smith to shuffle to No.4, a position – having averaged 35 across 17 innings – that has been less fruitful for him.

With Glenn Maxwell and Marcus Stoinis pencilled in to hover through the middle order, the uncertainty at the top may open the door once more for Shaun Marsh, who having been given the nod ahead of Handscomb for the final batting position in the squad, looms as a potential floater in the top four.

Advertisement
Advertisement

The oft-maligned Marsh has averaged 53 since his recall to the one-day team 12 months ago, a run of form that cast him as the only bright light in a struggling outfit.

He has scored centuries against India, South Africa and England during that time, with his twin centuries against the World Cup hosts on their soil perhaps a key reason for his selection.

The aesthetically pleasing left-hander averages above 45 batting at No.3 and 4, and in a similar vein to Smith, adds a degree of flexibility in being able to shift up and down the order.

Smith, after scoring an unbeaten 91 at No. 3 in the last warm-up match in Brisbane, will most likely be favoured to resume his old role as the anchor in that position.

This means selectors may have to gamble on playing an in-form Khawaja further down the order than he has previously batted – or to once again return to the Lazarus pit that is Marsh and hope that he can continue his late-career revival in the canary yellows.

It seems to be either this or, perhaps more radically, Finch and Khawaja remain together at the top and Warner is dropped down a spot to three, a position that he too has never occupied.

Luckily for the Langer and his men, the convenience of time and several warm-up matches still present.

But with this World Cup iteration looking increasingly likely to be governed by who can plough the most runs on the smallish English ovals, finding the correct batting nucleus will be paramount to a successful World Cup challenge.

Advertisement
Advertisement

Sports opinion delivered daily