Australia came into the ICC World T20 as a great unknown but were still treated with a great deal of reverence. After falling to New Zealand by eight runs in their opening match of the World T20 at Himachal Pradesh Cricket Association Stadium, it is becoming painfully obvious that Australia just aren’t particularly attuned to this format.
Simply, there has been too much deference about Australia’s aura.
As testament to Australia being the tournament’s second favourite according to many betting agencies, their form has been ignored. Their squad selection was ignored. Only because the overwhelming feeling with Australia was that they always are a serious threat when the stakes intensify.
In many ways, Australia are like Germany in football. Disregard form, player availability and confidence, Germany are habitually one of the favourites of major championships and, accordingly, they nearly always contend because their famed resolve rears when it matters most.
Perhaps that comparison rings true in the longer formats, but Australia does not deserve much admiration in T20 cricket. Cricket’s shortest format often feels like a crapshoot, and the manic pulse of T20 is reinforced by five different teams having won the World T20. Astoundingly, pr perhaps not, Australia aren’t one of those teams.
And after losing to New Zealand in their opener, Australia face an uphill battle to break their World T20 drought. Essentially, they will have to win their remaining matches to qualify for the final four. For a team that has won less than half of their matches since the World T20 in 2014 (granted, they have only played 13 matches), it would be a minor miracle if Australia can win three on the trot.
To state the obvious, Australia has flaws that are exposed on these low, slow and spinning Indian pitches which are kryptonite for them.
Everyone knew Australia’s weakness revolved around a Mitchell Starc-less bowling attack, exacerbated by inexperienced spinners. Unsurprisingly, Australia’s innocuous bowling was pummelled in the power play by a belligerent Martin Guptill, as the Black Caps plundered 58 runs in the opening six overs.
But with assistance through a wearing pitch, Australia rebounded superbly and had their best T20 bowling performance in a long time. Shane Watson, James Faulkner and Mitch Marsh bowled with smart variation and were aided by reckless New Zealand batting, as numerous batsmen carelessly threw away their wickets with rash shots.
Even if Australia had won this game, the virtual non-use of their frontline spinners would have still been a major talking point. Australia’s mistrust of their spinners seems ingrained in their T20 psyche.
Leg-spinner and Big Bash League (BBL) star Adam Zampa initially halted New Zealand’s tide conceding just three runs in the seventh over. But he was unsighted for the remainder, as captain Steve Smith preferred Glenn Maxwell’s part-time off-breaks.
Pressure will undoubtedly exist when Ashton Agar is the team’s second spinner. In the recent BBL for Perth Scorchers, Agar played primarily as a middle-order batsman and did not bowl until the team’s fifth match. After Martin Guptill dispatched three sixes off his first over, it was little wonder why Agar was sparingly used by the Scorchers.
Bafflingly, perhaps evoking his predecessor Michael Clarke’s inventiveness, Smith unwisely used Agar in the third over in the innings. Nobody, not even Australia chairman of selectors Rod Marsh, thought Agar would play in the World T20. As Marsh labelled, Agar was the team’s designated “15th man”.
But the rampant spinning conditions evident thus far in the World T20 has spooked the competition and, accordingly, Australia was essentially forced to play Agar. Hindsight is always a marvel, but Australia’s selectors seem to have misread these conditions. Another frontline spinner, perhaps the highly-rated Cameron Boyce or the experienced Nathan Lyon, would have been handy.
Having said that, it is doubtful Australia’s brains trust would have backed another frontline spinner, such was their reluctance to bowl Agar and Zampa. The duo mustered a mere two overs between them.
Australia relied, and ultimately succeeded, with their use of all-rounders but that formula does not bode well in future games and is hardly going to intimidate opposition battling line-ups.
On the surface, Australia being unable to chase 143 was jarring considering their high-octane batting legitimately boasts firepower right through the order. Ultimately, tricky conditions coupled with brainless batting negated those dangerous characteristics.
Eerily reminiscent of New Zealand, Australia started swiftly but were halted in the middle overs and became quickly mired in quicksand. Their explosive batting is great on pitches which are flat or fast as was evident during their successful series recently in South Africa. That victory, in conditions notably contrasting those in India, feels like fool’s gold right now.
Australia has an unbalanced lineup, reinforced by them possessing four players – Aaron Finch, David Warner, Usman Khawaja and Watson – who are at their most effective in this format at the top. Finch was controversially dropped, despite captaining the team six weeks ago and being the ICC’s number one T20 batsman, and Warner unconvincingly batted at four.
Maxwell was supposedly Australia’s x-factor but his schizophrenic batting was rendered ineffective by the conditions and you feel this might not be the tournament where his madcap ways effectively materialise. It seemed hard to believe not long ago, but Maxwell might be in the gun if Finch makes a return.
Almost inevitably, Australia was not able to effectively curtail spin, particularly Mitchell Santner who is bowling right now like he is the second coming of Bishan Bedi. Smith is regarded as Australia’s most adept player of spin, but he was deceived by Santner’s menacing loop and sharp turn to be convincingly stumped.
It was a comprehensive dismissal, one that encapsulates the contrasting positions both teams find themselves in. New Zealand are riding their spinners into pole position for a semi-final berth, while Australia are in an uncomfortable tangle, yearning for answers.
It is a long way back for Australia now.