“From struggling to build a competitive batting line-up to selection headache for the World Cup, the 5-time world champions Australia have come a long way”
David Warner certainly was a bundle of nerves before his comeback match in India’s T20 league on Sunday. However, that was not seen when he effortlessly took over a quality bowling attack, comprising of Kuldeep Yadav, Sunil Narine, Lockie Ferguson and Andre Russell.
Warner blasted three sixes and nine fours as he scored a 53-ball 85 and straightaway set a clear statement for a World Cup place.
On the same day, a few hours later, Australia’s incumbent openers Aaron Finch and Usman Khawaja put up a 209-run stand against Pakistan as the tourists chased a target of 285 in Sharjah. Finch scored a century and Khawaja scored a crucial 88 as Australia completed a venue-record chase as they won the second ODI by six wickets and took a 2-0 lead in the five-match series.
This was a second big partnership between these two in a span of few days after their 193-run stand in India.
Prior to these performances from Finch and Khawaja in the ODIs, it was known that if Warner sat on the plane to England, he would surely open with Finch in the World Cup, that is scheduled to begin on May 30. The plan did not even have Khawaja, who had last played an ODI two years ago in Australia’s home series against Pakistan. He was then included in the three-match series against India at home in January. Even there, Khawaja managed just one half-century in three games and that was not enough to crack the World Cup’s spot. Australia lost the series majorly because of their batters.
The turn of events took place post the home series. While Australia’s limited-overs look was going to change, a new chapter awaited Khawaja in the ODIs.
Since the forgetful events during the Cape Town Test against South Africa last year, Australia have suffered majorly. They suddenly were without their captain and his deputy, Steve Smith and Warner after the duo were slapped with a year’s ban over the ball-tampering scandal.
Not just the leadership, the entire batting line-up shook after that. With new leaders and head coach, Australia commenced a fresh start across the formats. Tim Paine was given the responsibilty in the Tests, Finch was roped in for the limited-overs.
A transition never happens overnight; there are several struggles before positive results are finally achieved. After losing four consecutive ODI series, since January 2018, against England (twice), South Africa and India, Finch and Co, at last, broke the losing streak when they defeated home favourites India in the five-match ODI series earlier this month.
It was special for two reasons; the first being India are supremely dominant at home. Then, Australia were without their best batsmen (Warner and Smith) and key bowlers – Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazlewood – who were recovering from their respective injuries. Hence, a series win was a huge achievement for the Australian side, who are reviving after they had hit the rock bottom following their 15 losses in 21 ODIs since last January.
After trailing 0-2 in India, Australia managed to fight back and win the series 3-2 and that was because the majority of their players stepped up whenever there was a need. In the third ODI in Ranchi, Finch finally found his form as he scored 97 and his opening partner clinched his maiden ODI ton after 23 long innings. Two matches later, in the decider ODI, Khawaja scored his second ODI ton and helped his side win the match as well as the series.
Khwaja, who had played just two Tests earlier in the UAE, played his first ODI in the desert land in the opening match against Pakistan in Sharjah. He managed to score just 24 runs. But, Khawaja carried his momentum from India as he stuck around with Finch in the second ODI. While Finch went on to register his second consecutive century, Khawaja scored a significant 88 off 109 balls.
Khawaja has always been a good player of the spin and which is why he was time and again picked for the Asian tours. However, the Khawaja the selectors had hoped for never arrived until March 2018. Two centuries and three fifties in the last seven innings show Khawaja has justified the faith the selectors had shown in him. One cannot imagine the amount of frustration he would have suffered after his repetitive failures despite the tremendous hard work he would have put in.
If Warner and Smith are to be included in the World Cup squad, two players will have to be excluded from their current squad and making that choice would be tough. If at all Warner makes the cut, his position will be fixed as an opener along with Finch and Khawaja can come in at No. 3. Even former Aussie captain Ricky Ponting has backed Khawaja to be picked for the World Cup.
“I think we all saw over the last few weeks just how skilful a player Usman Khawaja is… and I think when you see him play like that it just makes you wonder why he doesn’t do it a bit more regularly. would be surprised if Khawaja wasn’t in the (World Cup) squad. Khawaja could probably slot down at three when Warner comes in and Steve Smith might bat at four or five or something just to shore up those middle overs,” Ponting said.
However, the likes of Peter Handscomb, Glenn Maxwell and Shaun Marsh have done well in the last few series and it won’t be fair to drop them to fit in Smith. But, when considering Smith’s calibre and experience, Justin Langer would not want to leave him as well. Australia have three ODIs and one and a half month to chalk down their best combination for the multi-nation event.
From struggling to build a competitive batting line-up to selection headache for the World Cup, the 5-time world champions Australia have come a long way.