World Cup dilemmas loom on the horizon for Australia

India v Australia - ODI Series: Game 4
Aston Turner put himself in the World Cup mix with a match-winning 43-ball 84 against India. (Photo Credit: Getty Images)

When observing Australia’s disastrous ODI form of 2018, it seems hard to believe they entered 2019 as a team hoping to defend the World Cup crown they secured in Melbourne four years ago.

Such was the disarray in their ODI side, that they’d won only two of the 13 matches they played in 2018. But even more concerning was the brand of cricket they were producing. Their 1990’s version of the ODI format looked seriously dated and off the pace when compared to the new heights being set by the likes of England and India.

To make matters worse they even seemed behind more balanced sides like South Africa, New Zealand and the West Indies who were all packing more of a punch than Australia. After dominating the one-day scene for much of the 90’s and 2000’s, they have spent the past few years unsure of their ODI identity. This has been summed up by a series of jumbled moves and poor selections designed to find a solution to their prolonged form slump.

Those such moves included the recall of 34-year-old seamer Peter Siddle in January, despite him having not played limited-overs cricket for Australia for almost nine years. His recall was based, like many, on his form in the Big Bash – where he helped Adelaide Strikers win the 2017/18 version of the tournament.

With the domestic one-day tournament shoved into a short window at the beginning of the Australian summer its often the Big Bash that provides Australia with one-day players as it runs parallel to the home ODI’s that traditionally occur throughout January and early February.

Other dubious examples of pigeonholing Big Bash bowling stars into the ODI setup were epitomized by the inclusions of the Adelaide Strikers’ giant quick Billy Stanlake and the death-specialist Andrew Tye of the Perth Scorchers. Both were given brief spells in the side before being displaced alongside the likes of Michael Neser and Ashton Agar.

Likewise, with the batting missing the power of David Warner, the selectors took a punt on a pair of recent Big Bash stars hoping they’d be able to sustain strong opening support for captain Aaron Finch.

D’arcy Short and Chris Lynn were both trialled (for four ODI’s each) as top order hitters expected to exploit the early powerplay overs. When both failed to take their T20 form into the international arena, Australia quickly returned to the more traditional approaches of Usman Khawaja and Peter Handscomb, as they sort a different means of scoring the runs required to topple the power-hitting nations that now await in ODI cricket.

However, after many had begun writing off their chances of retaining the World Cup at Lords on July 14th, the Australians showed signs of rejuvenation during the recent limited overs victories in India.

First Pat Cummins and then Glenn Maxwell led them to a 2-0 win in the T20I’s, before they came from 0-2 down to win 3-2 in the ODI series – the first time they have ever achieved such a feat. It was also their first ODI series victory in seven attempts dating back to January 2017.

Suddenly a once unbalanced side, shorn of the banned duo Steve Smith and Warner and the injured fast bowlers Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazlewood, are beginning to regroup and peak with the World Cup just around the corner.

Led by the batting of Khawaja, and then finished off by the superb bowling of Cummins and Adam Zampa, Finch’s men overcame a fancied home side to win their first ODI series in India since November 2009.

After entering India with a number of question marks over key areas of the side, they now find themselves having to make some tough selection decisions when taking into account the returns of Smith, Warner, Starc and Hazlewood and the fine form shown by Khawaja, Handscomb, Marcus Stoinis, Ashton Turner, Jhye Richardson and Nathan Lyon.

And they only have a five-match series against Pakistan in the UAE remaining before they have to announce their preliminary 15-man World Cup squad to the ICC on April 23rd. They will then have a World Cup training camp in Brisbane in early May prior to finalizing the 15-man squad by May 22nd.

With the Pakistan series beginning in Sharjah on Friday; Who’s entering the run-in certain of a place in the World Cup 15 and who’s looking over their shoulder hoping for a final chance to impress?

zampa getty

Adam Zampa has established himself as Australia’s main ODI spinner (Photo Credit: BCCI)

The certainties

Aaron Finch – Despite wrestling with his own batting form recently, Finch has shown great calm and composure as skipper of the side. While his form remains a slight concern – he registered two ducks against India and has just one fifty (93 in Ranchi) in eleven innings since taking over the ODI captaincy in November – he’s a fine player who will no doubt recapture the form that’s seen him hit 11 centuries in 100 ODI innings.

Glenn Maxwell – A vital clog in the Australian limited overs side and someone with undeniable X-factor, Maxwell began the year unsure of his place or role in the side after being shunted down the order to bat as a pure finisher at number 7. But after a recent match-winning T20I hundred in India, he’s impressed further up the ODI order with vital hard-hitting cameos and useful spells with the ball. Add in his terrific fielding and leadership qualities he’s now a sure bet for the WC 15.

David Warner – A key fixture in the side before his 12-month ban, Warner is due to be briefly reintegrated back into the set-up at the beginning of the UAE tour before regaining his fitness with Hyderabad Sunrisers in the IPL. Although he won’t play for Australia before the WC squad announcement on April 23rd, he’s a certain pick for the tournament.

Usman Khawaja – The real winner from the India series. Khawaja – opening the batting – scored his maiden ODI hundred (104) in Ranchi and followed it up with 91 in the record run-chase in Mohali, before rounding out the series with another match winning hundred in Delhi. Although likely to drop down to number three to facilitate the return of Warner, he finally looks a permanent fixture in the ODI side – six years after debuting in the format.

Pat Cummins – One of first names on the team sheet, Cummins continues to go from strength to strength in all forms of cricket, no more so than when he recently topped the wickets tally in the India series with 14 victims at 15.71.

Mitchell Starc – Currently out with a pectoral muscle injury, Starc missed the tour of India and will also miss the Pakistan series after initially being hopeful of recovering in time. But given his recent history and pedigree in ODI cricket, he’s almost guaranteed to return to the XI once he’s back to full fitness.

Adam Zampa – Now the undisputed number one spinner in Australia’s ODI side, Zampa has endured a stop start few years in the national side but has now finally nailed down his spot with his legspin trailing only Cummins in India with 11 wickets as he both attacked and defended when required.

Peter Handscomb
Peter Handscomb on his way to a maiden ODI hundred against India. (Photo Credit: Getty Images)

The very likely 

Peter Handscomb – Scored a maiden ODI hundred (117) in the successful fourth ODI run-chase, before scoring an equally important 52 in the decider. Freshly dropped from the Test side, Handscomb was a leftfield pick when recalled to the ODI side to play India in January after a one-and-a-half-year hiatus from the limited over set-up. An excellent player of spin and a useful backup wicketkeeping option, he looks likely to battle with Smith for a place in the XI.

Alex Carey – After establishing himself as the number one limited-overs gloveman ahead of Tim Paine last year, Carey has generally batted down the order at six and seven but also opened, with little success, against India in January. A fine glovesman and good late innings finisher, he’s likely to begin the WC behind the stumps, although a spell of poor form could see Handscomb take over the gloves.

Marcus Stoinis – After starting the India series in good touch, Stoinis suffered a broken thumb, leading the way for fellow Western Australian Turner to come into the side and perform heroics. Capable of hard hitting towards the end of the innings but has been criticized for heaping pressure on the run-rate by playing out too many dot balls. Can also perform a solid role as the side’s fifth bowling option as seen when he recently dismissed Virat Kohli. Has taken over the allrounder role fulltime from previous incumbent Mitchell Marsh.

Steve Smith – Like Warner, Smith has been nursing an elbow injury in recent times, putting his planned comeback in doubt. After a brief reintegration back into the national setup, his next involvement in top level cricket is due to be the IPL with Rajasthan Royals where he will need to prove his fitness and form before the squad announcement. There is a thought that he could be left alone until the Ashes, given his importance to the Test side.

Josh Hazlewood – Still recovering from a stress-fracture of the back he suffered against India in January, Hazlewood is on a race against time to put himself firmly back in the WC reckoning. Having taken 72 wickets in 44 matches and established himself as a key figure in the ODI setup, he’s likely to be given every chance to fully recover from the injury and earn a place in the WC 15 even though he won’t play any cricket before May. His inclusion in the squad is likely to be determined by his ability to play in the warm-up matches.

Jhye Richardson – A fine tour of India in which he took eight wickets in three matches has likely elevated Richardson ahead of the likes of Coulter-Nile and Behrendorff in the pecking order. Still only 22 and fairly raw, he looks to have a bright future across formats for Australia having also made his Test debut in January deputising for the injured Hazlewood. If the latter fails to recover from his aforementioned injury then Richardson could also find himself in the WC starting XI.

****

The uncertainties

Ashton Turner – Brought into the squad for his abilities to hit a long ball and his excellent running between the wickets, Turner was drafted into the starting XI in India due to Stoinis’ misfortune and made the most of his chance scoring a magnificent unbeaten 43-ball 84 to grasp victory from the jaws of defeat in the four ODI. He will have the Pakistan series and then the IPL to prove he is worthy of a place in the WC 15. He can also bowl useful offspin and is excellent in the field.

Shaun Marsh – A big favourite of Justin Langer and a shining light during a poor 2018 for Australia, he’s scored four ODI hundreds in the past year against strong opposition (2 x England, South Africa and India) but his recent dry spell in India (scores of 16, 7 and 6) after he missed the series opener due to the birth of his second child, have tied in with similar players like Handscomb and Khawaja having timely success meaning Marsh’s spot suddenly looks vulnerable. Was left out for the series decider against India after Stoinis recovered from his thumb injury.

Nathan Lyon – Behind Zampa in the spinning ranks, Lyon is only likely to make the WC squad if Finch and the selectors decide they want to play two spinners during the tournament. He impressed bowling in tandem with Zampa in India where he offered his side much needed control during the middle overs.

Nathan Coulter-Nile – Played the first two India ODI’s before sitting out the remaining matches when Richardson came into the side. Capable of hitting a long ball down the order, his recent injury record could well count against him when Australia decide on their final 15.

Jason Behrendorff – Another injury-prone Western Australian quick, the left-armer originally came into the side after impressing in a handful of T20I matches and has let no one down without yet taking the hatful of wickets to fully cement his place in the WC 15. His left-arm angle and ability to swing the new ball are certainly in his favour but with Starc due to return soon, might he become redundant?

****

On the outside looking in

D’Arcy Short – A regular T20 performer, Short was recently called into the ODI squad to cover for Marsh who briefly went home on paternity leave. However, he failed to feature in any of the games and was already back playing in the Sheffield Shield before the tour finished.

Travis Head – A veteran of 42 ODI’s, Head was dropped in January after an underwhelming two-year spell in the side, where he scored one hundred and 10 fifties batting throughout the top and middle order. He remains unlikely to be re-visited before the WC.

Kane Richardson – The South Australian has played only 18 ODI’s in six years and is likely to remain on the outside unless a couple of the other fast bowlers are stricken down with injury. The leading wicket taker in this year’s Big Bash, he was called up for the India and Pakistan series when Starc was ruled out.

One thought on “World Cup dilemmas loom on the horizon for Australia

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s