In defeating Pakistan overnight, Australia notched their third win of the World Cup and appear on track for a semi-final berth.
On paper, there were positives: the Aussies emerged in another close one. David Warner struck his first ODI ton in 21 months. Pat Cummins was yet again superb. Tick, tick, tick.
A closer look, however, reveals a different story. Australia has been far from comprehensive in all four group games thus far, and an inconsistent effort by Pakistan papered over the cracks of the latest performance.
Perhaps the most disappointing aspect of the game in Taunton happened some 30 minutes before the first ball was bowled. In replacing Shaun Marsh with the injured Marcus Stoinis, Australia opted for risk-mitigation where they needed to be bold.
Justin Langer’s side are noticeably behind the pace being set by favourites England and India, and need to become daring should it wish to be a genuine contender this World Cup.
While both Marsh and Usman Khawaja are accomplished players, Australia cannot win a World Cup with both on the team sheet. This was further evident in the way Australia’s innings fizzled with the pair at number five and six respectively.
As such, the Aussies need to start taking risks, the biggest of which is picking five bowlers in its best XI. Yes – five batsmen, a keeper, and five bowlers. It’s almost jarring to read for Australian cricket fans such is its historical reliance on seaming all-rounders.
But the side strain to Stoinis means Aaron Finch now has no feasible seam bowling all-rounder to turn to this World Cup, should he be unable to return. Stoinis had already been out of form for some time anyhow, a strike rate of just 77 in his last 11 innings hardly befitting the ‘big hitter’ tag that has stuck with him since a sizzling start to his ODI career.
Should Mitch Marsh replace him in the squad, it’s difficult to justify his return to the best XI having not played ODI cricket in 18 months. Perhaps more pertinently, though, we’re (almost) halfway through the most competitive white ball tournament in cricket.
Immediate impact from fringe players hardly, if ever, eventuates.
As such, the five-bowler option should be seriously considered. It’s a move that isn’t an easy one – naturally – and places the top order under significant pressure to perform. But it would give Finch considerably more options in the field – something he clearly lacks at present.
In particular, it would allow him to use the dual-spin of Nathan Lyon and Adam Zampa, a feature glaringly missing against Pakistan. By bringing in the pair, Australia not only tempers the risk of exposing part-timers to bowling 10 overs, but also increases the chance of middle-over wickets.
It raises the question of whether you can actually win the World Cup without a seaming all-rounder. Should they go down this path, Australia would be alone in this department among the favoured nations this World Cup.
England are blessed with the brilliance of Ben Stokes, who would likely be picked in their XI on either skill alone. Similarly (although not to the bowling level of Stokes), India has Hardik Pandya at their disposal, while the Black Caps have Jimmy Neesham and the Windies have Jason Holder.
While it be a risk and a sizeable move away from what they are accustomed to, picking five bowlers may just be the gamble Australia needs to not just make up the numbers at the World Cup, but be a genuine chance to lift the trophy for the sixth time. Should it go down this path, Australia needs to do so now.