“Batting checked, spinners checked and fast bowling ever so menacing. Australia are peaking just at the right time”
There is something extra-humane about the relationship of Australia with the World Cups which is beyond the comprehension of normal cricketing minds. Just when you start thinking that Australia are battered and beleaguered and, for a change, are not favourites for the title, they give you a rude shock. Indians were the first to taste this bitter medicine in their own backyard and now it’s Pakistan who have experienced the first Kangaroo punch in Sharjah in what was the opener of the five-match ODI series.
The intriguing part of the recent Australian wins is the pattern through which these have been achieved. In each of those wins, a misfit or maligned player has stood up for the team. Usman Khawaja and Peter Handscomb weren’t deemed to be fit enough in the ODI scheme sometime back and were labelled as primarily suited for the Test format but they were the pillars of Australian fightback in India with tallies of 383 runs and 236 runs respectively.
Aaron Finch, who had been struggling for the past nine months to reach the three-figure mark in ODIs, was brilliant in the Ranchi ODI where he scored a good looking 93. That inning raised some hopes of a Finch resurgence which were effectively quashed in the last two ODIs. The redemption finally came in the heat of Sharjah which witnessed a sublime and confident Finch getting to his first hundred in nine months. Though Khawaja (24) and Shaun Marsh (91) played important hands, it was always Finch who controlled the uphill chase of 280 runs on a progressively slow Sharjah track.
Also read: Aaron Finch roars back with a solid ton
A slight cause of concern was the form of senior pro, Shaun Marsh who had a really poor showing in India, scoring just 29 runs from 3 innings. But all that was put behind in Sharjah, Although, he was scratching to start with, he grew in confidence as the innings progressed and ultimately took his side home with an unbeaten 91. It should be kept in mind that Khawaja, Marsh and Handscomb have coped a lot of criticism in past 2-3 months but now, a look at the batting performances of Australians in 2019 will tell you that these three are the highest averaging Australian batsmen in ODIs this year with averages of 57.88, 57.33 and 52.12 respectively.
Then there is the raw, untamed brilliance of upcoming talents like Marcus Stoinis and Ashton Turner who have also stepped up their game when their team has needed them to do so. A Glenn Maxwell hundred in the second T20I against India is also not a spectacle of some distant past. With David Warner and Steve Smith set to return for the World Cup duties, a total of seven in-form batsmen will be fighting for four spots in the batting department as the keeping duties are almost certainly going to Alex Carrey. This is a good headache to have for any team management and Justin Langer should be a happy man.
The pace bowling department was never a concern for Australia. There were apprehensions only on the spin prowess of the team. Off-spinners are fast getting out of vogue in the limited overs cricket and Nathan Lyon’s inclusion in the team as a second spinner can only be viewed as a defensive option rather than a wicket-taking one. An option which provides control in the middle phase by slipping-in some tidy overs; nothing more than that. His figures are a testament to this theory. An economy of 4.66 runs per over can be appreciated but the figures start to irk when the gaze moves to the wickets and average columns.
An average of 70 for just 4 wickets from 6 games in 2019 is not what you expect from your frontline bowler. Perhaps Lyon’s utility in ODIs doesn’t lie in his single independent identity but as a part of the Australian spin-attack; as a complementary player to Adam Zampa’s fashionable leg-spin. They performed as a unit in India and recorded better bowling averages, economy and strike-rate than their Indian counterparts.
Something similar was the story in Sharjah where Australian spinners (Zampa, Maxwell, and Lyon) bowled 30 overs and conceded just 139 runs while picking up 2 wickets whereas their Pakistani counterparts (Imad Wasim, Yasir Shah and Shoaib Malik) bowled a total of 21 overs and went for 116 runs without picking up any wicket. This difference restricted Pakistan from scoring those extra 20 runs which could have proved to be psychologically beneficial for the home team.
Batting checked, spinners checked and fast bowling ever so menacing. Australia are peaking just at the right time. The inclusions of Warner and Smith will only add teeth to a squad which already looks quite well-rounded. The past one year has been really rough for the Australians and it’s really heartening to see them coming through after traversing the deepest trenches of the cricketing arena. If they are able to win the series against Pakistan, they surely will barge into the World Cup as favourites; as they have an altogether different love story with the World Cup Trophy.