Just like an underdog story makes for a stirring script, so does one of resurrection. A team that was popularly disliked for a prolonged period not too long ago for its sheer audacity of trampling teams across with consummate nonchalance, now elicited commiseration.
After seeing through arguably the darkest period in their cricketing history in the last 15 months, with the ball-tampering scandal, the eventual bans to two of their best, and the losses at home to India, Australia have crawled out of the mire, one step at a time. Having won just three ODIs of 18 played in 2018, this year, they won the last eight they’ve played coming into the World Cup.
The five-time World Cup winners may not be going in as favourites this time around, but Australia are popular as a team that peaks on grand occasions. They may be a shadow of the dominant force they used to be, but count them out at your own peril, for it could well be the case of the phoenix rising from its ashes.
So what’s their game-plan?
Australia are a side that usually plays to their strengths, which in this case is their pace attack. Much of their campaign will depend on how their lead pacers in Mitchell Starc and Pat Cummins fare, upfront and in the death. Starc, however, last played an ODI in November 2018. Cummins, meanwhile, has picked 17 ODI wickets in 2019 at an average of 14. However, the vital cog will be how the third seamer stands up.
Of key importance, too, will be Nathan Lyon and Adam Zampa’s role in the middle overs, whose primary objective will be to reign in oppositions by picking timely wickets on wickets that are touted to be 300-plus ones and with little assistance for spin. If they are unable to, it will have the pacers under added pressure.
Much of Australia’s focus since Langer has taken over has been on their batsmen being able to play spin better. While the middle order has progressively gotten better in the last year, Smith and Warner coming in bolsters it. With Australia’s newly-adopted strategy of not taking too many risks early on to build a steady foundation, their addition could give them the extra cushion to be more attacking upfront.
In addition, Australia’s schedule has them playing lower-ranked teams in the first-half of the tournament, which bodes well for them building towards the second.
Player should watchout for
The left-hander came off a brilliant IPL season where he topped the run-scoring charts with over 600 runs, averaging just under 70. Warner and Smith were expectedly booed in the warm-up game against England, but both players were among the runs. Much more of such heckling is expected throughout the tournament and later in the Ashes, but how the pair handles it will be key to their success. Warner showed in the IPL that he meant business and had a point to prove after the year away from the game, and did so adeptly, with his hunger apparent. However, Warner is expecting the birth of his third child during the tournament. Australia will hope it doesn’t cause their batsman too much of a distraction.
What are their chances?
After 18 losses in 22 ODIs after the Champions Trophy in 2017, Australia were as good as out of the reckoning in the race for a top-four spot. However, the last three months have changed that. Although they may not start as favourites, if not anything, you could expect them to put on a fight. A semifinal place at best, if not an eighth final appearance could be in store. All that, provided their pacers come good and the middle order remains sturdy.
Aaron Finch (c), David Warner, Usman Khawaja, Jason Behrendorff, Alex Carey, Nathan Coulter-Nile, Pat Cummins, Nathan Lyon, Shaun Marsh, Glenn Maxwell, Kane Richardson, Steve Smith, Mitchell Starc, Marcus Stoinis, Adam Zampa.
June 1: v Afghanistan at County Ground, Bristol (D/N)
June 6: v West Indies at Trent Bridge, Nottingham (D)
June 9: v India at Kennington Oval, London (D)
June 12: v Pakistan at The Cooper Associates County Ground, Taunton (D)
June 15: v Sri Lanka at Kennington Oval, London (D)
June 20: v Bangladesh at Trent Bridge, Nottingham (D)
June 25: v England at Lord’s, London (D)
June 29: v New Zealand at Lord’s, London (D/N)
July 6: v South Africa at Emirates Old Trafford, Manchester (D/N)