Australia have set up a mouth-watering clash with New Zealand to decide their T20 World Cup finals fate after thrashing Bangladesh by 86 runs in Canberra on Thursday.
Whoever first said that cricket’s a funny game could well have been predicting the just-completed ODI series between Australia and India.
A week ago many were probably thinking Australia was a real chance to challenge India after comprehensively winning the first game by ten wickets. India, though, showed why they’re still a class above Australia, especially at home, with convincing wins in the final two games.
Ronan O’Connell recently made the pertinent comment that, “The run of nine ODIs away from home in India, SA and NZ seems a tad superfluous in a year when Australia are hosting the T20 World Cup”.
This is true in the sense that we’ve just finished an ODI World Cup year and obviously have to wait three and a bit years for the next tournament. That doesn’t make these games meaningless, however.
Marnus Labuschagne batted well in his two innings and his international ODI career has started promisingly. Steve Smith also scored a great hundred. But overall the middle order lacked the urgency required in this format. Selectors will need to think carefully about the make-up of the top seven.
Selectors now know choosing guys out of form – for example, Ashton Turner – is not going to do the team any favours against an unforgiving opponent like India. In a similar vein, choosing a team so far ahead of the start of the series is probably not a great option either. This is a lesson Cricket Australia should have learnt from the Kiwi selectors, who chose their squad to tour Australia before a ball was bowled in the two-Test series.
Above all, Australia showed in Game 1 what they’re capable of when they play nearly flawless ODI cricket and, in the final two games, what will happen if they go into games with out-of-form players and guys forced into batting slots that don’t suit them and subsequently making mental errors with either bat or ball. The really good sides, like India, will punish the latter sort of team badly.
Australia still has a series in South Africa and another back in Australia against New Zealand to complete the cricketing summer, though the last game will not start until after both the NRL and AFL seasons have commenced.
What should Australia be looking to achieve in these games?
The first and most obvious thing is to win as many of these games as possible. It would not do Australian cricket any good to drift back towards its losing ways, as we did in 2017 and 2018.
Selectors have a chance to try different combinations of both bowlers and batsmen. The obvious candidates for some games must include Glenn Maxwell, Peter Handscomb and Mitch Marsh. D’Arcy Short should be considered, and perhaps guys like Josh Philippe and Jhye Richardson might also get a look. It’s important too that if they chose a new player, they give him more than one match.
Two further areas that need attention are to do with our bowlers. India showed up our weakness in death bowling, and this is an area we have to get right.
The other is trying to get more runs out of our tail. Yes, our top order should do the bulk of the scoring, but that doesn’t mean our lower order can then make little or no contribution. The two sides that played in the World Cup final last year had guys contributing from as low as No. 9 or No. 10 in the order. Pat Cummins and Mithcell Starc in particular have shown they have the technique to make a fist of batting in Tests. They now have to adapt that to one-dayers.
Conditions in South Africa and Australia won’t be anything like they were in India, but that doesn’t mean Australia can’t benefit from these games, assuming Justin Langer and Aaron Finch have plans and players they want to try. Both opponents have world-class players in this format and will obviously be keen to knock us off. They’re also perfectly capable of doing just that if we don’t bring our A game to each match.
These three series are not ones that will guarantee players a spot in the squad for the World Cup in 2023, but poor performances won’t help their cause at all. Australia has a lot of talent available in this format. It’s now a matter of getting the squad and team right, then making sure the best in-form players have the right focus and tactics to keep winning.