The Road to World Cup: Australia

Australia is going through one of the darkest periods in their cricketing history but we should not forget that they go to England in May as the defending champions of ICC World Cup 2019. The imminent return of two of their best batsmen in David Warner and Steve Smith will make a huge difference to the Australian team led by Aaron Finch. Mitchell Starc's form will be important as he was instrumental in their World Cup success at home in 2015. Glenn Maxwell has also announced his return to form with exceptional batting in the T20i series.

The Road to World Cup: Australia The Road to World Cup: Australia Source : Press

Australia are currently ranked at sixth position in the latest ICC ODI rankings. Last time they won an ODI series was against Pakistan at home more than two years ago, when David Warner and Steve Smith were batting at their best in the format with the latter being world's Batsman for a good period. Since then, they were eliminated from the Champions Trophy in England, lost series to both England and India home and away, and to South Africa at home. However, they did manage to defeat all three of South Africa, India and England once in the ODIs series in what was a forgettable home summer last year where they lost a home test series against India for the first time ever. The Australian team will take confidence from the Test Series win against Sri Lanka at home and the T20i series win against India last week.

This series is just as important for Australia as it is for India with the World Cup only a couple of months away. For Australia, their bowling line-up is in much better shape than their batting, where there are at least two spots up for grabs. It is not certain that the banned duo of David Warner and Steve Smith will go to UAE to play Pakistan for the 5-match ODI series which will take place right after their one-year ban is served, but they are almost guaranteed to be on the plane to England for Australia desperately needs their two best batsmen at a time when they are going through an unprecedented dearth of quality batsmen.

Aaron Finch after becoming the captain of ODI team and making his test debut is going through his worst patch of form. His weakness against the incoming ball aimed at stumps hasn't allowed him to get past 25 runs in eight of his last ten ODIs, managing just 225 runs at an average of 22.50. His leadership has been positive and encouraging but if he fails to make any significant contribution with the bat and Australia happens to lose the series, his place in the side will be the first question Cricket Australia would have to address.

Alex Carey's meager returns with the bat so far in his short international career is the second biggest headache for Australia. With Peter Handscomb carrying his form from the domestic List A JLT Cup in the ODI against India, who kept gloves for his state Western Australia, the pressure will be on Carey to take every opportunity as his last if he is to seal his spot as the wicket-keeper for the World Cup. Handscomb is already the back-up keeper for now and his reputed ability against spin makes him a vital asset in the middle overs where Australian batsmen have found it difficult to rotate strike putting too much pressure on the finishers like Stoinis and Maxwell. If Handscomb does well against India, he will be the ideal number five-someone who doesn't get stuck in against the spinners and capable of changing gears.

Australia's third concern is their spin bowling. Adam Zampa showed glimpses that he is returning to form in the home summer against South Africa and India. If he can hold his own against India's incredible batting line-up, he will take a lot of confidence going forward in the World Cup. Australia still have ten matches before the World Cup, and they will try to give as many chances to Zampa and their second spinner-Nathan Lyon whose consistency makes him one of the finest finger spinners currently in the longest format but the same translates to predictability in the white ball format where he has so far proved to be ineffective. Against England last year, Ashton Agar did enough with the ball, bat and field to warrant selection as a second spinner and a bowling all-rounder but his continued absence since then seems like selectors aren't including him in the World Cup plans which doesn't seem to be the right choice keeping in mind the lack of spin options and the recent pattern of playing two spinners which the two most successful ODI teams-India (Kuldeep and Chahal) and England (Rashid and Ali) currently follow.

Australia's fourth concern is the form of Usman Khawaja who has been going through a tough period both on and off the field. If he fails to find form, Steve Smith is certain to take his place in the World Cup. D'Arcy Short has returned to the ODI team after another stunning BBL season where he racked up 637 runs in 15 games and he will audition as an opener after Alex Carey has been relegated to number 7. In the absence of in-form Shaun Marsh from the first ODI and over the course of the series, Ashton Turner too will also get an opportunity at some point to show what he can offer to this team.

The depth of their fast bowling stocks and all-rounders is the strength and the saving grace of this Australian team. Mitchell Starc, who is currently nursing an injury will surely return as the fast-bowling spearhead as soon as regains full fitness. Josh Hazlewood has been Australia's arguably been best ODI bowler in since WC along with Starc, so he will be in the reckoning as soon as he is fit. In their absence, Pat Cummins and Nathan Coulter-Nile have done well and will be competing for spots with Hazlewood and Jhye Richardson, who has been the find of the summer, firstly in the ODIs against India and then in his Test debut against Sri Lanka. Jhye's accuracy coupled with movement in the air and off the deck at decent pace makes him a vital asset. Whoever bowls best among Cummins, Jhye, and Coulter-Nile against India and Pakistan, will be in contention for the third and fourth spot in World Cup. Nathan Coulter-Nile has all the attributes a fast bowler needs-pace, bounce and swing. He can also bowl yorkers and variations at the death and showed his return to form in the T20s against India after the poor returns in the summer last year. 

Cummins is currently Australia's best player in the longest format, but by his own admission, his white ball game still needs a lot of work. He is very economical at the top and in the middle overs, but his death bowling has been atrocious. On two occasions, once each by Jos Buttler and David Miller carted him all over the park at the death in ODIs last year at home. Even this week in the second t20, Cummins was taken apart by Kohli and Rahul and was the most expensive bowler across both teams. If the trend continues in this series, then we may see Cummins playing red-ball cricket in England in preparation for the Ashes.

Marcus Stoinis has grabbed all the chances with both hands in the absence of Mitchell Marsh who has been Australia's first choice all-rounder in all formats. Be it with the bat, ball or in the field, he is a team player who will compete no matter what. He has surprised everyone with his bowling ability to take crucial wickets and on a good day, bowl his full quota of overs. He backs himself and bowls with confidence and heart that makes him an option for Australia at the death where his variations and odd bouncer can come in handy. With the bat, he is most famous for that one innings against New Zealand very early in his career where he almost won it for Australia on his own. Since then he has produced meaningful contributions with the bat but he will be itching to get another big score under his name. He is a powerful hitter of the ball and can clear boundaries with ease, but he is a slow starter and can accumulate dot balls which have been his nemesis.

Glenn Maxwell's third T20i hundred to win the match single-handedly is the best news for Australia and for any cricket fan, because when Glenn Maxwell is on, he is one of the most destructive and entertaining batsmen to watch in white ball cricket. Maxwell is also key to Australia's world cup plans as a finisher and an all-rounder. He is a supremely talented and gifted player who is capable of winning a match from any situation. The only gripe anyone may have with him is his lack of consistency. It also doesn't help when he is shuffled in the batting order and expected to do the bulk of the scoring coming in at difficult situations. Coach Justin Langer has announced that he will be batting up the order against after proving his form with the bat. Australia is the defending champions of the World Cup where Glenn Maxwell found his Midas touch at the perfect moment. The same trend seems to follow here too leading up to the World Cup. Fortunately for Australia he is finding his form before the World Cup which will give them much needed boost as they look forward to win their first ODI series win in India in almost 12 years.

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