Much has been written and spoken about Australia’s fast bowling stocks after the drawn Ashes series.
If there can be such a thing as a good time to lose, the game against India was surely it.
There should have been much learnt from this game, as there should have been from the preceding two games.
The Australian ODI brains trust must spend some time over the next 24 hours, taking stock about Australia’s position after three games and planning what’s required to make the knockout finals from here.
First the positives
• The team is two wins and one loss with a positive net run rate (0.483)
• At the time this article was written, Australia is inside the top four.
• Australia’s beaten a very good West Indies team and weren’t disgraced in the loss to India
• Aaron Finch, David Warner, Usman Khawaja and Steve Smith have made handy contributions with the bat.
• Glenn Maxwell has had a good innings, has bowled reasonably tidily and has led the team in fielding.
• Alex Carey has made two telling contributions with the bat
• NCN has played a match winning innings
• Mitch Starc and Pat Cummins have stood out as Australia’s best bowlers, while Adam Zampa had good moments against Afghanistan and the West Indies
• To date, Finch has led his troops well on the field, making good bowling changes and generally doing his best to keep the pressure on the batsmen
Then the negatives
• Something’s not right at the top of the batting order. This was hidden by an easy win over Afghanistan and a top order collapse against the West Indies, but there are clearly issues that need to be addressed
• Finch is not managing his batting order as well as he manages his bowlers. Excuses could be made for his keeping Maxwell at five against the West Indies, but there can be none when Maxwell should have come in at four against India, in a situation that begged for someone to really ignite the innings.
• Three guys are really hurting the team with their bowling: Marcus Stoinis (18 overs 4 for 117 at 6.5rpo), Nate Coulter-Nile (28 overs 2 for 169 at 6.03 rpo) and Zampa (24 overs 4 for 168 at 7). Not only are these guys uneconomical, they’re placing huge pressure on Cummins andamp; Starc as well as the rest of the team, because only NCN has bowled his full quota of overs.
• That team is not going to challenge either India or England, based on the performances over the first three games, unless they play out of their skins and there’s little to suggest this could happen.
The Australian team needs to reset its team makeup and accept the fact that a batting all-rounder simply won’t work because Stoinis is not good enough.
Conversely, Alex Carey’s last six innings have yielded 180 runs at a strike rate of exactly 100. This makes him a genuine batting option and a prime candidate to bat 6.
Australia established how they wanted to pace an innings when they played against India and Pakistan, prior to the World Cup. Finch and Khawaja are best placed to carry out that plan, given the success they had in earlier tournaments, so they should open.
During the innings, Finch needs to be thinking about who is best placed to bat where, depending on circumstances. He has Smith, Warner, Maxwell and Carey at his disposal, all of whom bring different skill sets to the table.
It makes sense for Smith to bat 3, then Warner, Maxwell and Carey, but if Australia gets off to a flyer, why wouldn’t Finch bring in Warner at 3 and even Maxwell at 4, if he wants to keep the foot down?
These six guys need to continue to do what Australia has done well – accumulate a good score but above all, aim to bat for 50 overs.
Australia cannot win this tournament if they have only two bowlers in Starc and Cummins. The problem for Finch is his other options.
Australia will lose more games than it wins if it has to rely on Stoinis, who is clearly out of his depth, NCN who is clearly out of form or Maxwell, who should not have to bowl more than five overs in an innings.
This means going back to five genuine bowlers, which would allow Lyon to pair with Zampa and bring in probably Behrendorff to support Starc and Cummins. It also adds a lot of variety to the attack, something that’s been missing with NCN and Stoinis as fourth and fifth bowlers.
The tail would be much longer but Starc and Cummins in particular, have shown they’re no slouches with the bat at Test level and are perfectly capable of hanging around and scoring handy runs, as is Lyon.
It also throws the onus on the top order to value their wicket and not do anything too stupid.
The next three games allow Australia to change things up as the side has to play Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh. None will be push overs, but will be very much easier than England, New Zealand, and South Africa.
Three games into a World Cup is not a great time to have to make these sorts of changes, but other teams would have watched the West Indies and Indian games very closely and seen how easy it can be to really pressure Australia, unless Finch and Langer try some different player options.