Ahead of ODI series against South Africa and New Zealand later this summer, these are the key lessons out of Australia’s 2-1 series loss in India.
1. Aussies still below England, India’s level
There was an overwhelming sense of inevitability halfway through Games 2 and 3 that the home side would walk away victors. And that’s by no means a disgrace for Aaron Finch’s side, who were admirable in defeat.
Boasting two batsmen who will at career’s end likely be classed as two of the best ever in the format plus a formidable bowling line-up, losing to India in India is nothing new.
While Australia were victors last time around, there’s little doubting the schism between the two sides. India plugs gaps perhaps better than any side in the world such is their depth. There are few leaks in their sturdy ship.
Much like the World Cup semi-final exposed the class discrepancy between England and Australia, this series did so with India and Australia. It’s far from an irrevocable gap, mind. But it’s certainly apparent.
2. Smith and Labuschagne will lean on middle-order support
Labuschagne’s foray into the 50-over format was one of the series’ biggest highlights for Australian fans. This summer’s Test sensation compiled scores of 46 (47) and 54 (64), earning praise from the opposing skipper: “I think he’s got the right mindset to be a consistent player, to be a top player in the world for a while,” Virat Kohli said.
But such is their rate of scoring, Labuschagne and Steve Smith – at Nos. 4 and 3 respectively – will need greater assistance from the middle order should the selectors opt to continue with the pair.
Throughout their careers – Smith in ODIs, Labuschagne in one-day domestic cricket – they strike at 87 runs per 100 balls and thus rely on bigger-hitting players around them to hit consistent boundaries. Going forward they will become the side’s accumulators and need 100-plus strike rate players around them.
3. Maxwell omission remains baffling
It’s an imperfect selection criterion, but if you’d have asked Kohli which Australian he’d least like coming to the crease with ten overs left in Games 2 and 3, it would be – without pausing – Glenn Maxwell. Maxwell strikes fear into opposition sides and flips momentum like few others in world cricket.
Even without the benefit of hindsight the Maxwell omission for this series was baffling. Should the exclusion have been for his benefit on the back of a mental health break, that would have been wholly reasonable. But nothing from Cricket Australia has suggested as much. Rather, Trevor Hohns and Justin Langer pointed to his poor 2019 as the reason for his omission from the series.
By opting for Ashton Turner at No. 6 – still largely unproven at international level – they took a greater risk than selecting Maxwell, who has the second-best strike rate of all time at ODI level (123.37) and averages a healthy 32.32 from the middle order. The old adage about form and class…
4. Dual all-rounders should be reconsidered
Ashton Agar was superb with the ball in Game 3 but is batting too high at No. 7 in ODI cricket. His presence unfortunately made the Aussies unbalanced with the bat in India, which was exposed in both their losses.
The Australian selectors persisted with dual all-rounders in last year’s World Cup without reward. Maxwell and Marcus Stoinis’ return with the bat was below what was expected. But that formula – be that with Maxwell and Stoinis or Maxwell and Mitch Marsh – is one the Aussies will likely revert to in order to match the hitting power of India or England.
It would also give them a sixth bowling option, something they lacked in the last week. In Game 3 Finch attempted to squeeze one over out of Labuschagne and himself, but the decision leaked 20 runs and both spells ended immediately.
5. Cummins and Starc need a break
The pair have been enormous for Australia this summer but both are also in need of some rest and recreation. Cummins was uncharacteristically wayward on Sunday night, while Starc was poor in both losses. Starc’s propensity for an off day is known. His best, by contrast, is close to the most damaging in the world.
But the gulf between Cummins’ floor and ceiling is perhaps the smallest in world cricket and a key reason he has become one of the world’s best. In Bengaluru he consistently allowed India to not only tick over the strike but feast on several half-volleys.
It’s difficult to diagnose without being in the dressing room, but workload was a likely factor in their performance. Both will benefit from time off before travelling to South Africa.