The first two of the five T20 internationals between Australia and the West Indies have been completed. With two resounding victories to the West Indies, where does the Australian team stand right now?
Game 1 looked very promising for Justin Langer’s men – a strong bowling performance powered by a stunning 3-12, including a maiden over from Josh Hazlewood. Despite some late-order heroics in the form of Andre Russell’s maiden T20 international 50 the West Indies could manage only an under-par 145.
Australia’s run chase got off to a promising start, bouncing back from Finch’s early departure with a swashbuckling 33 from Matthew Wade and a composed 51 from newly appointed No. 3 Mitchell Marsh.
However, it wasn’t to be. The Windies bowled diligently and through some key breakthroughs from Obed McCoy and Hayden Walsh Jr left the Aussies reeling and eventually dismissed in the 16th over.
The quick start from Wade and Marsh combined with the under-par score from the Windies batsmen meant the run rate was under control the whole way, but Australia’s middle order continued to keep trying for the big shots, with several of them giving their wickets away in a particularly soft fashion.
Moises Henriques, Ben McDermott and Dan Christian, who are all auditioning for the role of finisher in the line-up, all failed to make a mark batting, with none demonstrating any sense of technical precision or composure. The Windies bowlers choked the flow of boundaries, and rather than working together to build a partnership via running between the wickets, the Australian batsmen continued to bomb away, giving their wickets away in the process. A collapse of 6-19 meant they were all out inside of 16 overs and falling 18 runs short.
Moving to the second game the Australians went with an unchanged line-up and once again sent the West Indies in to bat. Once again it started pretty well for the Aussie bowlers. Despite a quickfire 30 from Lendl Simmons, the Windies slumped to 3-59 in the eighth over. From there the West Indies assumed control of the game and didn’t relinquish it.
Dwayne Bravo and Shimron Hetmyer combined for a 103-run partnership over the next ten overs before a run-out brought the thorn in the Australian side from the first game, Andre Russell, to the crease. Russell added 24 from eight balls in a powerful display of hitting to lift his side to an impressive 4-196 off their 20 overs and create a massive hill for the Australians to climb.
The Australian innings never got going, with Matthew Wade dismissed second ball and Aaron Finch undone by a slower ball not long after. Marsh again shone with the No. 3 role with another 50, but that was the beginning and end of any organised resistance. The Australian middle order collapsing again, only Josh Philippe and Henriques got to double figures.
The wrist spin of Hayden Walsh Jr again was the chief destroyer. Overall it was a dismal, toothless display from the Australian batsman meeting a disciplined, well-drilled display from the Windies bowlers.
So where does this leave the Australians?
Presently their series is in dire straits. They need to win the remaining three games to secure the series, which, considering their efforts in the first two games, seems like a long way off. Looking forward to the World Cup, their preparations are in disarray. The three options being looked at as finishers have struggled mightily. McDermott has struggled to adjust as a middle-order player, Henriques hasn’t made much of an impact and Christian, who seemed to be the best suited to the role, has underwhelmed with the bat, though he has looked okay with the ball.
Finch has gone into one of his patented form slumps, struggling for any consistency much like the disaster that was his most recent Big Bash campaign. Mitchell Starc is continuing his struggles from the summer. While his control seems to be improved, he has severely lacked any penetration with the new ball.
One of the positives so far is that Josh Hazlewood has punched his ticket to the World Cup, proving he’s a world-class bowler no matter the format with a very strong display bowling up front in the power play overs in both games.
Much maligned for his inconsistent play in the Test arena, Mitchell Marsh has seemed to have found a home at the vacant No. 3 spot and looks certain to be heading to the World Cup with two consecutive 50s and a strong showing in the warm-up games. Despite his poor Test showings Marsh has been a solid contributor in the limited-over games, so hopefully this series can be the catalyst for him becoming a star player for the team.
Australia is sorely missing the experience and batting of David Warner up front and Glenn Maxwell’s brilliance in the middle. The current players seem to be able to play at only one speed, and the Windies bowlers have been able to contain them despite the small ground and the strong winds that have aided aerial stroke play.
This series was supposed to be a chance to fine tune the Australian side and hopefully unearth a young talent like Phillipe, McDermott or Riley Meredith. Instead, as it stands, the series has asked even more questions of Langer’s men and done little to ready the side for the pending World Cup.
While most sides would struggle with the calibre of players missing from the starting XI, the complete ineptitude with which the Australians have gone about the first two run chases is embarrassing, especially when you consider that at the same time England, playing against Pakistan, have had to replace their entire squad due to COVID-19. Ben Stokes is the only player who would be a regular contributor to the side. And not only are England competing at a high level, but they are outplaying the Pakistan side, so the lack of depth coming through to the Australian national side is quite startling.
All of the players currently in the side save for Finch and Starc are coming off strong domestic seasons and Big Bash campaigns. But again we have fallen into the trap of picking players who have had strong seasons at the top of the order and then shoehorned them into a middle-order role. Phillipe and McDermott, who both excelled opening the batting for the Sixers and Hurricanes respectively, are coming in at Nos. 4 and 6 so far in this series. Unfamiliarity with the role only goes so far though – reaching the national team implies that you are of a certain standard and need to be able to adjust to situations like this, especially if you are playing in the T20 format.
What has been dished up so far shows the batting has not been up to standard.
The bowlers have some work to do as well. Starc, Hazlewood and Christian have been used to bowl the death overs so far, and Andre Russell has had his way in both games, finding the boundaries with ease. In Game 1, when the Aussies had the ascendency, it was Russell’s 50 which gave the Windies momentum and carried them to a respectable score. In Game 2 their inability to crack the Hetmyer-Bravo partnership and another cameo from Russell closed the innings with a barrage.
Starc was particularly disappointing with his four death overs over the two games. The once deadly yorker that propelled him to international stardom in the 2015 ODI World Cup is missing from the armoury, and his extra pace seemed only to aid the Windies batsman work him to the rope.
Christian bowled with a plan in the death, and some impressive hitting from Russell left his figures looking worse than how he actually bowled. However, whether he was unlucky or not for two straight games, Australia have failed to close their bowling innings with any authority, and that needs to change in a hurry with Australia’s compromised batting line-up.
One way or another the Australians need to sort out their batting and bowling woes quickly and gather some momentum moving forward, not just for the sake of the series but for their World Cup hopes as well.