Australia – Down Under, literally.
The 1992 Benson & Hedges World Cup was a landmark spectacle. The use of the white ball, players with coloured clothing and day-night matches delivered an overwhelming experience for audiences across the globe first time at a magnum opus sporting event for the sport. Australia, the defending champions had retained the nucleus of the side.
They were considered among the favourites to win again as they were playing in their own backyard along with New Zealand as co-hosts. Soon, things went horribly wrong. The team lost 3 of their first 4 games, losing momentum in such fashion that they just couldn’t recover to qualify ahead.
Alan Border, the captain, blamed lack of planning and goal setting due to players’ involvement in first-class cricket until the last moment before the World Cup for their disastrous display. Ironically, since then, the first class tournaments in Australia like the Sheffield Shield and the Pura Milk Cup, among others have produced some world-beaters who dominated world cricket for over a decade.
With under a year left for the next world cup, the situation in the Australian camp seems to be similar. However, the only major difference is that this team is not even considered to be a favourite. The problems are aplenty as you might have thought already.
First and foremost, can Smith and Warner immediately produce the goods from the word go in a tournament where every single ball decides the fortune thereafter? How settled do the likes of Marsh brothers, particularly Mitchell look? We know Shaun Marsh struck gold recently at England. We also know he can play the stable, strike-changer during tough times and can nicely accelerate in the end.
But who’s his genuine ally in the middle-order? Tim Paine, least of what could be said, has hardly looked the part of a senior cricketer?
Then there are some numbers that’ll crunch an Aussie fan’s brains out.
According to Wisden cricket, till June 2018, Australia have lost 14 of their last 16 completed ODI matches. Consequently, they have slid to a 34-year low, being sixth in the ICC Rankings.
During the series against England recently, five of their regulars were absent through injury or suspension (David Warner, Steve Smith, Mitchell Starc, Pat Cummins and Josh Hazlewood).
Once these are back as one unit- what’s the guarantee they can tick all the right boxes at the Academy Award equivalent of Cricket?
What does this suggest? Is this a team with more deep-rooted problems and can the lack of batting brilliance be pointing to the possible area that adds strength to this line-up? Of course, one that often eschews the eye of the critic: the Australian bowling attack?
The Australian bowling attack, that at its best, last seemed stable post the exit of McGrath and Lee, thanks to the presence of Mitchell Johnson has undergone a change of sorts in recent times. It’s common knowledge that over the decades, Australia has produced a world-class battery of bowlers, especially seamers.
The likes of Thompson and Lillee send tremors down the batsmen’s heart in the 70s and 80s. Then there were Craig Mcdermott, Merv Hughes, Mike Whitney, Bruce Reid. They kept baring the torch. The immediate next trio, so to speak, post the greats- Glen Mcgrath, Jason Gillespie and Brett Lee- like Andy Bichel, Nathan Bracken, Brad Williams, weren’t world beaters. But they were admired for their nagging accuracy.
Now, while there’s the shining trio of Starc, Hazlewood and Pattinson that looks promising, to say the least, further confidence is inspired when you put Cummins’ name in that list. Surely, this is a lot that’s been bailing Australia out, at least where the team’s home record is concerned. Above everything, it looks far more threatening than the likes of Bracken and Bichel earlier.
But there’s a worry that the current Australian bowling attack may feel like a sting of the bee.
None of these pacers has been able to cement his place on a regular basis. It boils down not so much because of the form or ability but majorly because of the constant occurrence of injuries.
Should Australia find a way to keep their leading pacemen; arguably the spine of a frail batting unit, they’ll find themselves as confident. There’s also a key perspective.
Some Australian legends believe the limitations imposed on their workload by sports science were actually leading to more injuries rather than preventing them, forcing them to miss series after series.
Surely you’d expect a side regarded for being a cerebral mind in the sport to find a way out of this mess.
The equation is relatively simple. A fit Starc and firing Hazlewood can make the ball talk the same way an in-form Smith or Williamson are aided on a good pitch or against any opponent. Importantly, Hazlewood’s already played a world cup campaign before. So he’s exposed to the stakes out there. Starc held on to his own in the 2015 world cup.
Any side wanting to take Australia lightly would want to remember’s Starc’s 22 wickets in the 2015 world cup. His average was not even 11 with the ball. His 6-for nearly crushed the Kiwis.
But for a rhythm-heavy bowler, it’s vital that he keeps his physical limitations and often rusty fitness in check. A beautiful bowler, Mitchell Starc leaves the fan wondering. Does his obduracy with the ball boil down to him finding his physical peak on the 22 yards?
Thankfully, Australia is advising players to avoid bowling more than two days in a row and on no more than four days a week. This is a vital step. An adherence to this consistently should forge a key alliance between the bowler’s rhythm and fitness. What else could you possibly need on turning, lush-green English wickets?
3 of the 4 names mentioned here seem to be getting back to their best in terms of fitness. This is a huge positive.
But that leaves the team to stomach a reality.
A tour to the UAE against Pakistan, followed by Test series at home, against India and Sri Lanka means the workload is going to be obvious. This is, in midst of the road to the World Cup, next year.
In the history of World Cup’s, the 1992 edition should be the most forgettable as far as the Australians are concerned. They would really need to pull up their socks if they wouldn’t want history to repeat. To that end, the Australian bowling attack would be vital since the batting may or may not click.
Here’s another stat that one would love to remember.
In their crunch game against New Zealand- World Cup 2015- it was pretty much the skidding yorkers of Starc vs the resilience of Willaimson show.
In a contest where the Kiwis won by 1 wicket, Australia managed 151. New Zealand, somehow, crossed the line.
Even a one-man show with the white-ball, provided a Starc or Hazlewood is firing all cylinders seems promising. But for that to happen, you’d need as much of a poor batting from the opponent as the bowlers’ own fitness.
Let’s not deny the fighting spirit of the Australians. But a question still remains at large.
Does this group of players possess the mettle and the determination to flourish against the odds?