Bold Prediction: Australia can win it again
Australia :Can they surprise everyone and pull off a surprise victory and a great story of resurrection.
When we discuss the World Cup, talk about the favorites, in this CWC revolved around two teams: England, India. Then, we have teams who have capabilities to pull off surprise victory here and spoiling parties: Afghanistan, West Indies. Then, the team which can punch above its weight and likely makes it to semi-final: New Zealand and Pakistan.
However, then the whole talks come down to only two teams winning World Cup: England, India.
Australia’s Road to World Cup
Hardly anyone had talked about the team everyone liked to castigate as favorites: Australia.The defending champions but with 18 loss out of 22 games played after Champions trophy till 2019 which included two 5-0 losses against England, South Africa. However, a story of the resurrection was to be followed as Australia beat India in India after trailing by 0-2 and whitewashed Pakistan in UAE 5-0.
So that makes eight wins out of 10 matches against No.2 ranked ODI team and current Champions Trophy holder and with that Australia are back in the hunt. Here is look at Australian squad and analyze how they could fare–
Aaron Finch (c), David Warner, Usman Khawaja, Steve Smith, Shaun Marsh, Glenn Maxwell, Marcus Stoinis, Alex Carey (wk), Pat Cummins, Kane Richardson, Mitchell Starc, Nathan Coulter-Nile, Jason Behrendorff, Adam Zampa, Nathan Lyon.
Australia last 10 International ODI (most recent first): WWWWWWWWLL
Moreover, with David Warner, Steven Smith again in the group, Aaron Finch rediscovering form averaging 65.5 in last 10 ODIs when against South Africa, India down under he struggled for every run.
Such was Finch struggle that since T20I innings of 172 against Zimbabwe last year in the tri-series involving Pakistan, Finch had played 13 innings in T-20 Internationals, out of which there were nine single-digit scores. Finch during this phase was ODI form which hurt him and teams the most, a mere 73 runs across six innings in the two three-match series against South Africa and India respectively and losing his place in the Test side against Sri Lanka before he rose like a Phoenix from Ashes.
Usman Khawaja has not been far behind as he scored 600 plus runs in last ten innings at an average of over 60 which is well above his career average of 44.21.
In the warmup match, Khawaja showed his class by finishing off the tricky chase of 239 by scoring 89 of 105 balls.
David Warner is fresh off a high of IPL season where he finished as tournament leading run-scorer by a fair margin(692 runs in 12 innings at an astonishing strike rate of 143).
Steven Smith had an indifferent IPL, but that was partly due to rustiness. He announced his comeback in style by blasting 116 runs against England in the warmup match. Before this, Smith scored 383 runs in 15 innings at an average of 29.46 well below career average of 41. Not to forget, Smith was the man of the tournament for Australia with the bat scoring 402 runs at 67 including 105 against India in semis and crucial half-centuries against Pakistan, New Zealand in quarter-finals and final. He was purely picked over Peter Handscomb who scored 300 odd runs in last ODI at 43 because of experience Smith brings to the team. Such was the competition for batting spots.
In Shaun Marsh, they unearthed a gun ODI player who can be slotted in at any position from 1-5. He was the kingpin of their batting in ODIs as the elder Marsh brother scored 4 ODI centuries since June 2018. Shaun can play spin very well and clear the ropes at the back end of the innings. Kuldeep Yadav in fact during the ODI series against Australia had said he would be wary of Shaun Marsh in the Australian bowling lineup as Marsh had played him best till now keeping the chinaman bowler on his feet. In England last year, Shaun scored 288 runs with two centuries at an average of 57.60. So the top four of Australian batting looks solid.
Australian quality all-rounder
In Marcus Stoinis and Glenn Maxwell, Australia has got key all-rounder and sixth bowling options for the captain to use at different stages of the game. Glenn Maxwell batting in 2019 looks like has come off age, and finally, he looks to have found a method to be more consistent. In ODIs in 2019, Big Show averages 41. In last World Cup, Maxwell scored 324 runs at an average of 64 with a strike rate of 182. So his World Cup experience will count, and the fact that he has acclimatized to the condition in the UK by playing in the county cricket does help. Stoinis has shown a great appetite for a fight when chips have been down though failed to finish off matches with the bat in 7 innings Marcus scored a half-century. However, he keeps Australia in the hunt with the bat. History has shown how vital all-rounder is in World Cup-winning squad be it in 1983 or 1999 World Cup.
Australian Bowling variety giving them edge
Pat Cummins has been quietly leading pace attack since his comeback in 2017. In 2019, Cummins has taken 17 wickets at 14.29 in six matches while striking every 19.5 deliveries. In Cummins in the absence of Starc-Hazelwood was given the new ball in India and excelled, consistently taking top-order wickets before returning to bowl at the end of the innings. In fact in the death overs in 27 matches he played Cummins has picked up 29 wickets at a miserly economy rate of 6.11. Even Adam Zampa is not far behind as his death over (41-50 overs) economy rate is as good as Cummins, In 29 matches Zampa picked 15 wickets with 6.08 making the top 10 death bowler in terms of economy. In the last 10 ODIs, Zampa picked up 18 wickets. In ball in hand, Stoinis has been entrusted with the job of even bowling at the death and surprisingly has not fared too poorly with his cutter and slower ones. The lesson he got from Lasith Malinga after warmup match against Sri Lanka should come handy as well. Nathan Lyon has been economical since his comeback going at under six an over in his last 7 ODIs he played.
Moreover, you cannot discount the experience of a man of the tournament in WC 2015 with 22 wickets at an average of 10. The variety Mitch Starc provides as a left-arm bowler with lethal yorkers at the death, and his experience of winning World Cup gives Australia the edge. Nathan Counter Nile is an excellent bowler with an exceptional record in ODIs. In 27 matches he has picked 48 wickets at an economy of 5.48. He was a key player for Australia in the win over Pakistan in UAE with seven wickets in 3 matches and offers the batting depth as well.
Perhaps, Kangaroos got all 11 players who can win matches against any opposition. However, in case of injury to Stoinis and Maxwell, who can take their spot remains a big question mark and can the player deliver like either of them have?
Injuries to a key player a major concern
David Warner, Steven Smith were injured(both elbow injury) and at one stage look like they might not get the ticket for World Cup squad. However, they did and will they be able to keep their fitness level high throughout the tournament is an area of concern. With Ashes coming up right after the World Cup, they could opt to make the big player sit out of World Cup matches as well. Usman Khawaja has had his injuries issues(knee injury). Jhye Richardson being out of Australian squad due to dislocated shoulder and Hazelwood not making it for the World Cup, must have derailed Australian plan. Mitch Starc also has not played any ODI cricket since 2018 November. Any more injury woes can be a big headache going ahead in the knockouts. Did Australia miss out the trick by picking wicket-keeper Carey over in-form experienced Matthew Wade who had done well in domestic cricket scoring 1000 runs and BBL?
Australia current form and experience of doing well with four wins out of last 5 WC will hold them in good stead. However, Australia has struggled against quality swing bowling and spin. So Australian first encounter against Afghanistan will be vital for them to get the momentum rolling into the knockouts. A loss can be demoralizing, and they can go downhill as well. But as they showed in a warmup match against No.1 ranked England they can pull off close encounters. Australia does have the ability to go all way with the right blend of experienced men, young players, X-factor, good fast bowler, and spinners in their rank a perfect mix for World Cup-winning squad better than joint contender India. In 2003 WC with injuries and losing key player before the start of World Cup, Aussies were down and out but Andrew Symonds played a pivotal innings to rejuvenize the Australian, and from thereon Kangaroos were on a roll not losing the single match before bowing down to Pakistan in 2011 edition of World Cup. If Men in Yellow can get such inspirational innings or bowling spell from anyone in the first match against Afghanistan with good bowling lineup, then expect Aussies to be unstoppable and go all the way.They should make it to semis for sure. But don’t be surprised if they go all the way.They certainly have the team to do it.
What do you reckon? Who are your final four? Sound off your thoughts below?
Pic Courtesy: ICC