Australia got beaten by India in a Twenty20 international again on Sunday night. This brings Australia to 40 wins and 38 losses all time in T20s, a format that Australia has taken to like a duck to water, provided that duck was a very average paddler. They now sit at 8th in the International Cricket Council’s Twenty20 rankings. And with a World Cup around the corner, they are running out of time to remedy their issues.
Australia’s international form sits in stark contrast to the play of the Big Bash, and it’s not just the different production values of the competing broadcasters. The adventurous captaincy, the clean hitting and the dynamic bowling all have been missing from the international version – at least from the Australian side. And they need to be fixed quickly if Australia is to be competitive in the upcoming World Cup.
The captaincy problem will remain in stasis pending the outcome of Aaron Finch’s hamstrings.
His reign has not been as long or as significant to allow him the lenience given to Michael Clarke’s hamstrings before the 2015 One Day World Cup. Not all hamstrings are created equal.
‘Aaron Finch, Melbourne Renegades captain’ has been about as adventurous as any other BBL captain, which is to say a lot more adventurous than ‘Aaron Finch, Australian captain’. Without him it seems likely Steve Smith will resume his normal functions. His reign as captain of the Sydney Sixers was legendary for its apparent ingenuity and aggressiveness. But in international cricket he too has been unwilling to risk losing in order to pursue victory.
The lack of clean hitting has been most clear against the Indian spinners. Australia are going to face a lot of spin in the World Cup, so they need the best batsmen capable of scoring freely against them. A middle order of Watson, Smith and Maxwell seems a good step in the right direction. George Bailey has proven reliable in the middle order, and loves India so would be an excellent choice also. Chris Lynn was the standout batsmen of the Big Bash, but is yet to find his way against slower bowling – he is a relatively high risk, high reward choice in India. Travis Head showed he was capable of dealing with India’s slow bowlers on Sunday night and also bowls handy spin. Usman Khawaja must open the batting. And it seems prudent to give as much of the first power play to Warner as possible.
The bowling is more difficult to fix. What has become abruptly clear is that no Australian can take a wicket. Unfortunately with Starc, Cummins and Behrendorrf injured, Johnson and Harris retiring and Pattinson not having played short form cricket in recent times, Australia is short a strike bowler. In desperation the Australian selectors turned to Shaun Tait because they have memories of a fonder time when Shaun Tait was still good – if only it was still 2007.
For the other bowlers, Andrew Tye showed the creativity and variation he used to succeed in the Big Bash, and will be better for bowling the death overs on Sunday, despite his lack of success. Scott Boland is a good first class bowler clearly suited to longer cricket than Twenty20. His consistent pace and lengths were used against him by class batsmen in both the One Day and Twenty20 series.
In the spin department Nathan Lyon has seemingly blown his belated chance with the selectors, who have already moved on to Adam Zampa and back to Cameron Boyce. Boyce was below his best, particularly early in the Big Bash, but bowled much better in the last Twenty20. Whoever is chosen to bowl spin will have to suddenly become a world class slow bowler on the biggest stage. It hardly seems fair.
And so with just a month to go before the beginning of the World Cup, Australia have a lot of problems to fix, and no time to fix it.