Sixth bilateral series defeat in succession. Four wins in the past 21 matches. It is not a record Australia would desire with the World Cup only four months away. Good news is that there are still two series — one against India and one against Pakistan before the regaining champions head to England to defend their crown. Justin Langer stated before the ODI series against India that he had a good idea of the kind of personnel he needs in his setup, but the defeat to India has opened new crevasses.
Australia’s problems start at the top of the batting order. Aaron Finch is experiencing a wretched run and the technical glitch in his batting will give Langer sleepless nights. Finch is a shoo-in to captain Australia at the World Cup, but the last thing the defending champions would want is to see the skipper struggling to keep his spot in the playing XI. Good news for Finch is that he can stay away from the spotlight for the next month and formulate a method to overcome his issue against the incoming ball.
Another worry for the Australians is finding an able partner for Finch at the top. At this stage, it is assumed David Warner will be reinstated into the opening slot for the World Cup, but Langer needs to find alternative options. The experiment of Alex Carey as an opener proved to be a failure. The wicket-keeper batsmen registered scores of 25, 18 and 5 in the three matches against India. It was a perplexing decision to bat Carey at the top, given that he did reasonably well at No 5 in the series against South Africa in November, scoring 42, 47 and 43. Perhaps Carey’s indifferent form will warrant Langer to once again shift him down to the middle order. Carey is an exceptional sweeper of the ball and the 10 matches in the sub-continent will present the left-hander an opportunity gain valuable experience during the middle overs.
One of the areas Australia showed signs of improvement against India was in through the middle stages. While Yuzvendra Chahal spun a web around the middle order in Melbourne, the likes of Shaun Marsh and Peter Handscomb showed plenty of promise on how to rotate the strike and accumulate runs against spin bowling between overs 15-40. It was only six months ago, that Moeen Ali and Adil Rashid choked the Australians into submission in a five-nil whitewash, but against India, there were signs of Australia heading in the right direction.
With Steve Smith expected to slip straight into the middle order, it also begs the question as to what is the ideal batting position for Usman Khawaja? Does he even get considered for the World Cup or the tours of India and the UAE? It is likely that Khawaja will partner Finch and if he shines, then be the reserve opener at the World Cup.
Marcus Stoinis and Glenn Maxwell solidify the batting at No 6 and No 7 respectively. There has been a lot of discussion about Maxwell’s demotion to No 7, but it is worth noting that in his last nine innings between No 4 and No 6, he has never managed to bat beyond 40th over. It is difficult to see Langer elevating Maxwell anytime soon.
On the bowling front, there are two major issues for the ‘Men in Yellow’. First is to find a spin bowler that can take wickets after the first power-play. Australia won the World Cup in 2015 without playing a frontline spinner, but times have changed and the conditions in England will be vastly different. The two logical choices are Nathan Lyon and Adam Zampa. Lyon was toothless against the Indians in the one-dayers and Zampa, who has taken 43 wickets for Australia since the 2015 World Cup, should be given a long reign in the lead-up to the mega event later this summer. But in context of the rest of spinners in the world, Zampa was ranked 15th. It further highlights Australia’s inability to take wickets via the mode of spin bowling.
On the fast bowling front, the form of Jhye Richarson has been a highlight, but the experiment to bring back Peter Siddle proved to be a failure. Moving forward, Mitchell Starc and Pat Cummins should permanent in the playing XI, but the recurrence of the back injury to Josh Hazelwood might have put his World Cup spot in jeopardy.
The return of Starc would also ensure that Australia has a legitimate death bowling option. Marcus Stoinis was delegated the responsibilities during the India series and it’s fair to say that Australia need an alternative. In the 66 matches Australia have played since the last World Cup, Starc has only played in 34 matches. Thus, Australia need their premier quick bowler to play as many matches in the lead-up to World Cup.
Overall, there are still more questions than answers. Luckily, there are still 10 more matches to sort out the deficiencies that still exist in the ODI team.