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Opinion

Six-win streak but problems abound: The tactical, selection and form issues Australia must fix before World Cup semis

8th November, 2023
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8th November, 2023
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Glenn Maxwell’s double century was spectacular and deserves to go down as one of the greatest innings in one-day international cricket history. 

But the Australians are kidding themselves if they think they can go all the way in this World Cup unless they fix a range of conspicuous issues before their semi-final showdown with South Africa.

If anyone thinks they can still compete for the trophy on current form, they haven’t seen what’s sure to be waiting in the final even if Australia beat the Proteas – an Indian juggernaut with strength in every department that hasn’t looked like losing a game.

Australia have one more chance to iron out their many kinks when they take on Bangladesh in Pune this Saturday in a match which has little significance on the final standings but represents an opportunity for the Aussies to experiment with a few different tactics and selections. 

The win over Afghanistan was their sixth in a row and they will more than likely make it seven against the under-achieving Bangladeshi squad but, apart from their annihilation of the Netherlands, they are yet to put in a complete performance at this tournament.

Here are the key issues facing Australia as the World Cup reaches the pointy end.

Losing wickets in bunches is a weak point

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In each of their eight matches, Australia have had a collapse of some degree. 

Even when they piled on 8-399 against the Dutch, there was a period midway through their innings when they lost 4-46. 

It can be hard for a new batter to get settled on Indian wickets and it’s better to accumulate for a few overs rather than going for big shots early. 

The reverse sweep is no longer seen as an outlandish shot but Marcus Stoinis’ decision to try one out when the team was 5-87 against Afghanistan was a shocking error of judgement from an experienced player. 

Marnus or Smith to shore up middle order? 

Assuming Steve Smith is able to return to the line-up after missing the win over Afghanistan due to a bout of vertigo, is he an automatic selection ahead of Marnus Labuschagne for the middle-order mainstay role?

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Labuschagne has looked more assured in this tournament despite a lesser ODI record beforehand with the Queenslander amassing 286 runs at 35.75 at a serviceable strike rate of 77.08.

Smith has looked continually out of sorts in making 205 at 29.28 at a slightly better clip of 86.13. 

The 34-year-old vice-captain is certain to come back into the side once he’s cleared by the medicos but his production is not at its usual high standard.

BLOEMFONTEIN, SOUTH AFRICA - SEPTEMBER 07: Marnus Labuschagme of Australia during the 1st Betway One Day International match between South Africa and Australia at Mangaung Oval on September 07, 2023 in Bloemfontein, South Africa. (Photo by Charle Lombard/Gallo Images/Getty Images)

Marnus Labuschagne. (Photo by Charle Lombard/Gallo Images/Getty Images)

Stoinis or Green? Or neither?

When Smith’s back, Labuschagne could remain in the XI if Stoinis and Cameron Green are not necessarily needed for their all-round skills. 

Maxwell is relied upon for 10 overs as the fifth bowler most matches and even if one of the frontliners gets taken down, Mitchell Marsh and Travis Head are at the ready to soak up some of the workload. 

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Stoinis has yet again looked a million dollars but been worth a million rupees in India (that’s around $18,000 on the exchange rate) while Green has not made the most of his limited opportunities.

Both have averaged 21 with the bat and only used for a few overs per game when they’ve been part of the attack.

Playing Smith and Labuschagne means Maxwell can continue at his preferred spot at six and Josh Inglis can drop down to the traditional keeper’s slot of seven.

Has Inglis done enough to keep the gloves? 

But whether the surprise decision to elevate Inglis ahead of Alex Carey has been the right one or not is open to debate.

The Aussies have won six of the seven matches since Carey was punted after a form slump with the bat leading into the World Cup but apart from a 58 against Sri Lanka, Inglis has failed at No.5 with only one other score above 14.

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His glovework has been fine but 131 runs at 18.71 is not going to cut it at this level.

Australia won’t change a winning formula but Inglis needs to perform or he will suffer the same fate as Carey.

Persist with Starc or give Abbott a run? 

Mitchell Starc has been the most expensive of the four frontline bowlers in terms of average (43.9) and economy rate (6.55).

His radar is off with deliveries going wide on either side of the wicket and his length varying from half-tracker to way too full far too frequently.

Sean Abbott has warmed the bench throughout the entire tournament without getting a game so maybe it’s worth giving him a run against Bangladesh to see if he can be a more reliable option alongside Pat Cummins and Josh Hazlewood. 

If they persist with Starc for the final group game in the hope that he can find some form, it wouldn’t be the worst idea to give Cummins or Hazlewood, or both, a rest to freshen up for the semi-final after wight straight matches bowling in the Indian heat on largely unhelpful decks.

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LUCKNOW, INDIA - OCTOBER 16: Pat Cummins of Australia celebrates the wicket of Pathum Nissanka of Sri Lanka during the ICC Men's Cricket World Cup India 2023 between Australia and Sri Lanka at BRSABVE Cricket Stadium on October 16, 2023 in Lucknow, India. (Photo by Robert Cianflone/Getty Images)

 (Photo by Robert Cianflone/Getty Images)

Cummins’ bowling changes? 

He’s trying to be proactive but it’s just not in his nature. 

Cummins at least pulled the trigger early on Starc when pace wasn’t working in the opening power play against Afghanistan to change the tempo with Maxwell in a bid to slow the scoring rate. 

But not for the first time this tournament he misjudged his calculations at the end and Hazlewood, easily their best and most economical bowler on the night, was not used when he still had an over up his sleeve.

Starc was brought back for two of the final three overs and was carted by Ibrahmim Zadran and Rashid Khan in finishing with the unflattering figures of 1-77 from nine. 

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