Australia have had a fantastic World Cup to date but they will have to overcome a number of issues if they are to beat tournament hosts England in Thursday’s semi-final.
Here are three problems for Australia heading into this match.
The brute force of Roy and Bairstow
When Australia comfortably defeated England two weeks ago the home side were hampered by the absence of intimidating opening batsman Jason Roy.
Instead the Aussie quicks were lucky to bowl at his replacement James Vince, a flawed batsman who has failed in both ODIs and Tests to date.
The 28-year-old Roy has been in barnstorming touch in ODIs this year, cracking 743 runs at 74, with a sprinting strike rate of 118.
He also seems to bring out the best in his opening partner Jonny Bairstow. That is no surprise. When a player scores as quickly as Roy, and bullies bowlers and opposition captains like he so often does, it relieves a lot of pressure on their batting partner.
It means that, if Bairstow is not quite in sync at the start of his innings, he can take his time to find rhythm, safe in the knowledge the run rate is healthy regardless. And if he is seeing them well then it’s party time, with both batsmen getting after the bowlers, leaving the opposition under siege.
The latter scenario is just what played out in England’s last two matches. Against New Zealand, Roy and Bairstow cantered to a 123 run stand in just 18.3 overs. In the previous match, versus India, they put on 160 from 22.1 overs.
These fast starts are valuable for a variety of reasons, many of them obvious. One of their more subtle upsides relates to pitch conditions in this tournament. The English surfaces have got progressively slower, lower and more difficult for batting across most games.
Roy and Bairstow help England cash in while batting conditions are at their best, reducing the responsibility on the middle order to score at a scorching pace.
So good is this pair that they have the highest average partnership (68) of any opening combination in ODI history (minimum 1,000 runs).
Alex Carey’s keeping is letting him down
The South Australian has been one of the breakout stars of this tournament, with 329 runs at 66, at a strike rate of 113. But his classical strokeplay and impeccable timing have concealed, to an extent, his shoddy glovework.
Carey’s mistakes behind the stumps have been at the heart of both of Australia’s losses in this series.
Against South Africa, in-form batsman Rassie van der Dussen was on just four when he came down the pitch, was beaten in the flight by off spinner Glenn Maxwell and left stranded out of his crease. But Carey missed this fairly straightforward stumping chance.
Had he taken it SA would have been 3-133 and their weak middle order would have been exposed.
Instead van der Dussen cracked 95 and constructed a match-winning 151-run stand with skipper Faf du Plessis (100). While Carey later starred with the bat, making 85, his error allowed van der Dussen to push the Proteas to a total that was beyond Australia.
It was a similar story in Australia’s loss to India. From the first ball he faced, India’s most dangerous hitter Hardik Pandya nicked a delivery from Nathan Coulter-Nile and offered Carey a regulation catch.
Somehow, Carey turfed it. Pandya then proceeded to go ballistic, hammering 48 from 27 balls. It was a pivotal moment and only looked more significant when Australia finished just 36 runs short of victory.
These two instances are not Carey’s only keeping mistakes in the tournament, they are just the most crucial ones. Ironically, Carey was picked to play ODIs largely on the strength of his glovework, with his batting widely seen as a weakness. To date, the reverse has been true.
Maxwell’s short ball weakness
Glenn Maxwell has a problem, a bouncer problem. The cavalier all-rounder has been out cheaply to short balls in his last three innings as teams have begun targeting him with bouncers.
Maxwell was also out playing the pull shot against the West Indies, in Australia’s first match of this World Cup. That means four of his seven dismissals have come from short balls.
Against the Windies a Sheldon Cottrell delivery got big on him and he skied an easy catch. Versus England he tried to run a Mark Wood short ball through the slip area and edged behind. Next up he was through his pull shot far too early and succeeded only in toe-ending it straight back to New Zealand’s Jimmy Neesham.
Then against South Africa, the Proteas made a point of targeting him with short balls until he nicked a Kagiso Rabada bouncer. England are perfectly positioned to exploit Maxwell’s weakness.
In Jofra Archer and Mark Wood they have two of the fastest bowlers in the tournament, both of whom have very good short balls.
Maxwell seems to have only one plan to counter this strategy – thrash for the fences. Expect Wood or Archer to come into the attack when he arrives at the crease.