Fresh off the success of a 4-0 sweep against an England side that seemed hapless against the relentless pace of Australia’s big 3 fast bowlers, and unable to put any pressure on an Australian batting order that seemed to have no obvious gaps, the Australian public, as likely well as the team itself, were brimming in confidence in coming up against a very similar England team in the ODI series. And rightly so, considering that the Australians were the reigning world champions in the format and boasted some of the world’s best individual cricketers across multiple formats, in rapid Mitchell Starc, flashy Vice-Captain David Warner, and inspiring captain Steve Smith. However, as the roles were reversed and the Australians were the ones that went down 4-1, it became obvious to many that significant changes were required with the world cup just around the corner, if the Australians were any chance of getting close to lifting the trophy for consecutive tournaments.
When Australia lost the One Day International series to India 4-1, their last series in the format before the one against England, it was easy for the Australian public to brush it off and to tell each other “No one can beat India in India, it’s not our fault”. However, after this series at home, where excuses cannot be made, more of the same started to unfold.
Australia’s key batsmen, Warner and particularly Smith, have been well down on form with averages of 32 and 26 respectively for their last series’, both of which are well down on averages over their careers. Both players have publicly stated that they want more runs, and rumors have been swirling that both players have been overworked in an action packed summer, leading to Smith heading to South Africa early to not only prepare for the upcoming test series, but take a well-deserved break. The blame of Australia’s losses cannot however fall solely with them, with Australia’s approach to the different format being called into question.
In all 5 matches played over the England series, the team that had the higher average strike rate of all batsmen who got a start and made over 10 runs, won the match. The team that played the more positive brand of cricket, at the risk of losing wickets, was ultimately the team that came out on top in the series in the England cricket team. Australia’s approach always appeared 2 or 3 runs slower through the middle overs than when the English batted, and the stats suggest that their lack of aggression was really what cost the Australians. Noted players with typically high strike rates in the format in Travis Head and Tim Paine only went at a strike rate over 100 once between them across the whole series, and with 300 becoming more and more the norm in One-day cricket, players need to often be up and around the 100 strike rate to push their teams total towards that 300 mark.
Another approach used by the English that could be considered by the Australians is the switching of leadership positions between different formats of cricket. The possibility of giving Smith a break from the captaincy should be considered strongly, in order to allow him to leave the responsibility behind and play himself into form, by granting a player such as Aaron Finch, who does not play tests, the chance to skipper his team.
This tactic has been demonstrated to its full effect by the England side, with test captain Joe Root not holding a leadership position in the new look England ODI side, and Eoin Morgan, not even a member of the English test team, captaining the side. While Morgan has only averaged a disappointing 19 in this past series just gone, his leadership qualities and faith in his team are two things that have really stood out to all cricket fans throughout the series. Perhaps even more importantly, it has seen a welcome return to form for Joe Root from where he clearly struggled in the test arena with the burden of captaincy, to the ODI series where he averaged an impressive 75. Root and Smith are very similar, both young test captains that constantly inspire their nation and put in outstanding performances that sees them both in the top 3 batsmen in the world, and while it would have been hard for him not to have the captaincy, his loyalty to the team has certainly been rewarded in spades.
The One-day team could also take a leaf out of the Twenty20 teams current success. Bowling first has been demonstrated to be important to most Twenty20 teams nowadays, both international and domestic, with much success. While not the normal front line trio, Billy Stanlake, Kane Richardson and Andrew Tye have all proven to be very effective shorter format bowlers, and have been used well by Warner throughout the series, in constantly changing up his bowlers and not allowing set batsmen to settle. Richardson and Stanlake have typically opened the bowling, with one of those two as well as Tye bowling the final death others. All have great variations, especially Tye, and could be used similarly in the death overs in One-day cricket to how they are used in the Twenty20 format. Well known Big Bash run machines in Lynn, Maxwell and Short have been influential in the three matches to date, and could come into the One-day side to not only strengthen the middle order, but also provide some much needed aggression.
The middle order has been the scene of constant disappointment for Australian fans, as despite the persistent attempts from selectors, they are yet to find a middle order batsman who can cement a spot and play well, especially when the top order fails to find a shot. Handscomb, White, Lynn, Cartwright, Khawaja, Head as well as both the Marsh brothers have been tried in this middle order after the breakup of the world cup winning squad, with no one particularly locking down a spot, or looking guaranteed to play in 2 matches time. A long time problem for the team, Marcus Stoinis and Mitch Marsh seem to be the batsmen the selectors are placing the faith in currently, however the latter is certainly no automatic selection for the next series. One step the selectors can take to strengthening the middle order however, is by slapping Glenn Maxwell’s whiteboard magnet straight into the middle order, and leaving it untouched.
Australian fans and those from all over the world were left bewildered, let alone Maxwell himself, when he wasn’t originally selected in the squad for the ODI series versus England. Trevhor Honhs’ as well as Smith’s reasoning as to why he wasn’t in the team only made matters worse, and the selectors rightly got torn apart for leaving him out of the squad. After caving to public pressure, Maxwell was eventually brought into the squad as cover for the injured Finch and played in the final game of the series, where he looked good for 34 and was dismissed to a good Tom Curran delivery that nipped back, finishing with the equal second highest score for the Australian innings. A respectable knock. Whatever issues the team, or the hierarchy of Cricket Australia have with Glenn Maxwell, must be set aside now, because although he is not the most consistent player, he is one that provides a crucial level to the team, and one that most cricket fans would agree, should be one of the first picked in the squad. He is also one player that can be guaranteed to up his strike rate as required, as previously stated, depending on the game situation. Recent performances for the Melbourne Stars, where he made consecutive fifties, and also for the Australian T20 team where he has hit two match winning knocks in two matches, only further exemplifies how he simply must be picked for our next series, as preparations for the world cup heat up.
Maxwell also provides some handy, underrated off spinners at a good one-day average of 39. But of course, Maxwell in unlikely to be the number one spinner picked to go to England. It is likely that for English wickets, a frontline spinner, plus a part timer such as Maxwell will be picked, and conditions can then determine who gets the final nod. The selectors likely have three options when it comes to their frontline spinners, in Nathan Lyon, Ashton Agar or Adam Zampa. All three are different types of bowlers, and all three have their different reasons to be picked.
Lyon has become Australia’s most successful off spinner in test history, which has widely seen him viewed at the GOAT, is predominately seen by selectors as a red ball specialist, but has publicly stated he would like to be the leading spinner in all three formats and as he has a strong case for it, with his dominance for the Sydney sixers in the big bash pushing his name forward. However, being hit for 34 runs off a single over by Englishman David Willey in a match for the Prime Ministers XI has put a large dent in his credentials for white ball cricket.
Agar has burst onto the scene in 2013, where he made the record highest score for a number 11, scoring 98 on debut, to keep him firmly on the radar of selectors. While his bowling was probably not as great as he would have liked, it has come a long way since then, to the point where selectors now see him as much more of a bowler than a batsman, although still a quality all-rounder. Agar provides a bit of variation when comparing his left arm action to the right arm of Maxwell, and selectors would likely pick Agar if they thought that batting depth was too shallow, and be comforted by the thought that he could likely do the job with both bat and ball.
Zampa was the only one of these three to play at all against England recently, and while he did get dropped he did return again and was serviceable without setting the world on fire throughout the series. He was the leading wicket taker in all one day internationals last year, and while not being a huge turner of the ball, has plenty of quality variations that has generally seen him keep a low economy rate. Zampa would be the bowler the selectors want to tie up an end and keep runs to a minimum while also being threatening, a quality that is very appealing to any captain.
Whichever way selectors are going to go, decisions need to be made soon so that particular bowler can become used to the team again, and gain confidence, which is so imperative to bowlers nowadays, as seen with Nathan Lyon in the test team, as high confidence levels lead to better bowling. There is no right answer for the selectors here, as this is a decision where they can’t really go wrong, but is going to be tricky to maximize.
While there are plenty of holes in the Australian one-day team at the present moment, there are also some shining lights. Aaron Finch looks to be seeing them like beach balls at the moment, and is in great form, and at the same time, Marcus Stoinis has also had a very solid series, with both looking like very important parts of Australia’s task in England next year. Tim Paine’s glove work has again been very clean, and the quicks of Starc, Cummins, Hazlewood, Richardson and Tye have all looked at their best at different time of the series. If Australia can get their stars back into form, strengthen their middle order, and back in a quality spinner, there is no reason why the rest of the team can’t continue to do their jobs well and make Australia a force to be reckoned with at the 2019 ODI world cup in England.