Australia’s loss to India in last night’s third ODI shouldn’t obscure the huge improvement they’ve made in this format, thanks in part to career resurgences from Adam Zampa and Glenn Maxwell.
Two years ago Australia was a basketcase in this format. They had a horrendous run in ODIs in 2017 and 2018, marked by a lack of respect for white ball bi-lateral series under former coach Darren Lehmann and the 12-month bans to Steve Smith and David Warner.
But since early 2019 Australia have made a dramatic turnaround, with a 20-10 win-loss record in their past 30 matches. That includes away series wins in England, India and the UAE, as well as home series victories against India and New Zealand.
What makes that recent run even more impressive is their commanding 11-6 record against the top three ranked ODI teams – England, India and New Zealand. Australia are beating the best teams and beating them often.
England remain the benchmark in this format, of that there’s no doubt. But Australia have greatly narrowed the once yawning gap between them and the world’s number one ODI side.
Australia’s only blatant weakness is the lack of a consistent all-rounder, with Marcus Stoinis having struggled in ODIs for more than two years and Mitch Marsh injured too often.
Otherwise, Australia are impressive from top to bottom. They have a colossal opening pair in David Warner and Aaron Finch, who average 56 and 53 respectively in ODIs since the start of 2019.
At first drop, Steve Smith has morphed into a more dangerous ODI batsman since returning from his ban, averaging 50 at a swift strike rate of 97.
Behind him, Test star Marnus Labuschagne is showing signs he can become a white ball fixture, averaging 39 in his brief career. In the middle order Alex Carey has a career average of 36 with the bat, a fantastic return for a gloveman, and has been neat behind the stumps.
Then there’s Glenn Maxwell, who has been in blazing ODI form and is well suited to batting at seven. Since the start of last year, Maxwell has made 988 runs at 41, with an astonishing strike rate of 136. The all-rounder hasn’t just been dynamic but also consistent, reaching 40 in no less than 12 of his 28 innings.
He is the perfect batsman to follow an Aussie top six that’s consistently providing him a fine platform from which to wield his unique brand of mayhem.
Again last night he had a big influence as he thumped 59 from just 38 balls to bring Australia to within reach of victory. By batting him at seven, Australia are creating clearer match scenarios for Maxwell. He is at his best when allowed to attack the bowlers from ball one.
What Maxwell’s strongest critics have long ignored is that he offers Australia a balance in their line-up that can be provided by no other domestic batsman.
Every good ODI side needs at least one middle order strokemaker capable of consistently scoring at a scorching rate. India have six-blasting Hardik Pandya, England have several such players, including champion keeper-batsman Jos Buttler.
Maxwell’s chaotic contributions the past two years have greatly enhanced an Australian batting line-up that at times can be too one-paced.
Meanwhile, Zampa has had a similar impact. Australia are now a far more well-rounded bowling side due to the leg spinner’s vast improvement.
In Zampa’s last 25 ODIs he’s averaged 28 with the ball and, most importantly, has made a lot of middle over breakthroughs.
In an era when ODI batting line-ups can wreak havoc in the final 10-15 overs, thanks to their T20 hitting skills, bowling attacks are hugely vulnerable if they don’t make inroads in the middle overs.
This was a giant problem for Australia in 2017 and 2018 as Zampa floundered. Now, however, he’s become a major wicket taking threat, averaging 1.9 wickets per match in his last 25 outings.
Crucially, Zampa has excelled against the world’s two strongest ODI batting units, England and India, taking 29 wickets at 23 in that time. What makes that effort even more significant is Zampa had been slaughtered by those same two teams prior to that period, with 10 wickets at 60 from 11 matches.
Banishing this hoodoo in such emphatic fashion is an indicator of Zampa’s mental strength. He was pivotal in Australia’s upset 2-1 ODI series win against England in the UK in September with 10 wickets at 14.
That rousing series victory against the ODI top dogs has now been followed immediately by a comprehensive series win against India.
If Australia can follow this up by beating New Zealand at home next month that would be a hat trick of wins against the current number one, two and three ranked sides.
Such results would have been unthinkable two years ago. Australia deserve great credit for hauling themselves out of a crevasse to once again become a quality ODI team.