Cricket Australia’s international schedule for the 2020-21 home summer has been confirmed, with just 72 days until the first ODI.
Australia’s transition from T20 also-rans to World Cup favourites is now complete, and can be traced back to a significant mindset shift under Justin Langer.
The running between the wickets and fielding performance in Thursday morning’s series-clinching win was indicative of a side close to its best. It is also a side that’s now without doubt the best T20 outfit the country has seen. The stats back up that claim: this is the first time Australia has won four straight T20 international series (over India, Sri Lanka and Pakistan and now South Africa).
But there’s more to it than that. When two years ago the team were consistently inconsistent, too reliant on the raw talent alone to get over the line, this Australian team has a clear game plan with roles carefully assigned. And with Glenn Maxwell to return to the middle order (the only lingering question mark over the side), they now deserve to be mentioned in the same conversation as England and India ahead of the World Cup later this year.
The 97-run win at Newlands was textbook Australia under Langer, where the controllables were very much controlled. David Warner and Aaron Finch were outstanding between the wickets and ticked over to 0-75 inside the power play. Perhaps most impressive was that just 48 of these came from boundaries. The pair ran at every opportunity, stealing singles inside the circle, but never in a haphazard fashion.
Finch said after the game that “pinching ones” is now a big part of their top order ethos.
“It’s something we pride ourselves on,” he said. “You can face a lot of dot balls and hit a lot of boundaries in the power play and still only go at seven-an-over. If you can chip away and keep getting those ones here and there, that goes up to eight, nine, ten pretty quick.”
While Warner’s pace between the wicket is well known, it’s difficult to remember a time Finch has been so swift. After completing a run, the pair never decelerate slowly past the crease. Rather they turn sharply, always looking out for an overthrow. While this might sound a basic non-negotiable in international cricket, few teams do it to the level Australia now does.
The speed and alertness between the wickets is partially a product of Langer’s fitness demands on the side, and isn’t the only attribute the team has noticeably improved. Australia’s fielding is now to such a level that it is rarely, if ever, sloppy.
Improvements in the field are perhaps best typified by Adam Zampa, who pulled off two terrific catches in the series. Zampa has become a trusted arm and set of hands at third man, something that perhaps couldn’t be said earlier in his career.
The manner in which the Australian bowlers switched into team mode post delivery stride was even highlighted during Thursday morning’s game.
“One thing I’ve picked up tonight is how well the Australian bowlers watched the angles of the shot and quickly move into a position to back up the throw – they are perfectly placed,” Mark Nicholas said. “It would be typical of a team run by Justin Langer that there’s that attention to detail.”
In modern sport the notion of marginal gains – made famous by British cycling in the 2012 Olympics – has become a mantra many teams work towards. That is, improving by one per cent in every aspect of your performance, for an overall boost in output and thereby success. And in a data-heavy, tactical sport like T20 cricket, this makes sense. The improvements Australia has made under Langer (now with the help of Andrew McDonald) has been an aggregation of marginal gains.
There’s also a stronger sense of bowling plans to specific batsmen; plans that leave little to chance. Ricky Ponting, an IPL coach himself and one of the format’s best thinkers, has said this was key in preparing sides to play.
“We make sure that when we go into each game that there’s nothing left that should happen in the game that should take us by surprise,” he has said.
While T20 is a fickle format where even the best sides can be undone by an opposition’s best two players, the best-prepared and tactically superior sides invariably prevail. Take the Chennai Super Kings in the IPL, or the Perth Scorchers (2011-17) in the BBL.
The Aussies have made strong progress and with a packed T20 schedule this year before the World Cup, they still have time to iron out any remaining kinks.