Australia’s ODI top five may be in great shape but they need to overhaul their middle-to-lower-order ahead of six upcoming matches against South Africa and New Zealand.
Rejigging their side after the 2019 World Cup, Australia experimented with Ashton Turner at six and bowling all-rounder Ashton Agar at seven as they lost 1-2 in India this past week.
Their batting line-up has a terrific core thanks to the scorching long-term form of Aaron Finch and David Warner, Steve Smith’s awesome record at first drop, Marnus Labuschagne’s smooth transition to ODIs and Alex Carey’s versatility.
That top five has everything Australia needs – experience, skill against pace and spin, good running between the wickets and a nice balance of power and deft touch.
Finch and Warner give Australia intimidating hitting power up top, Smith and Labuschagne accumulate neatly against all styles of bowling and Carey can bat at a number of different tempos.
That is a group which should, more often than not, provide a nice platform from which numbers six, seven and eight can launch. The problem for Australia lies with the six-seven combination of Turner and Agar. If I wanted to be generous I would describe that duo as unproven with the bat.
Asked to be blunt, I’d say they’re patently inadequate.
In the series decider, Australia built a great launching pad for that duo – they were on 231, with 50 balls remaining, and Smith unbeaten on 98, when Turner came to the crease.
The West Aussie was scratchy from the get-go and Agar after him never looked likely to do any damage. Combined they made just 15 from 23 balls at the death, striking not even one boundary. In the previous match, the two Ashtons both came to the middle in the final ten overs and once more couldn’t score at the swift rate required, combining to make 38 from 40 balls.
Now, it should be said that I have time for both of these cricketers. Agar would be in my starting XI for this year’s T20 World Cup, and I’d also give him strong consideration for the upcoming Test tour of Bangladesh, where he played well last time around.
But he remains clearly a better bowler than batsman and simply does not have the power-hitting ability required of an ODI number seven. He is being played out of position. As a number eight, Agar is handy. As a number seven, he leaves Australia unbalanced.
The left-arm spinner bowled well in two of the three ODIs against India and could come into the frame for the next World Cup, which will be held in India. But in the future should be played as a bowler, not at number seven.
When Australia won their last World Cup, they had a six-seven-eight combination that bulged with power – Glenn Maxwell, Brad Haddin and James Faulkner. The fact Australia’s current ODI tail is so weak is another reason they cannot afford the luxury of Agar at seven.
Pat Cummins and Mitchell Starc might be fine lower-order batsmen in Test cricket but are consistently misrepresented as handy tail-enders in ODIs. In reality, they both offer very little, averaging 9 and 12 with the bat, respectively, across their long ODI careers.
Cummins is a number 11 standard batsman in ODIs yet bats at eight for Australia. Not only does he average just 9 with the bat, but his career scoring rate is glacial at 4.3 runs per over.
Now, I’m not having a crack at Cummins, his role is to bowl and bowl well. My point is the very fragile state of Australia’s batting from 8-11 means there’s no room for experimentation at six and seven.
Turner played a truly extraordinary, match-winning ODI innings in Mohali last year. He displayed in that innings the qualities Australia need in an ODI number six – composure, destructive power and a wide range of strokes.
Since then, however, Turner has laboured badly across all formats. In that time he has averaged 21 with the bat in List A cricket, 14 in T20 cricket and just 3.5 in this summer’s Sheffield Shield.
While Turner is floundering at domestic level, no matter what the format, it is a huge task for him to shine in international cricket against a powerhouse side like India.
That leap from domestic to international level is heinously difficult to make at the best of times, let alone for a player who is patently out of form. Let Turner return to the Big Bash League and Shield to see if he can regain some touch.
It would be folly to send him to South Africa and then New Zealand next month for the six ODIs and three T20Is scheduled across those two tours.