Legendary Australian commentator Jim Maxwell started his commentary stint on the BBC radio by saying "I feel like I'm watching The Ashes but with a white ball". It was only 20 minutes into the World Cup semi-final, but the Australian top order was getting their bat tangled behind the pad, edging balls to slips and wafting at thin air while the ball castled into the stumps. Chris Woakes and Jofra Archer gave a glimpse of what the future may look like when the Ashes starts in two weeks, by reducing Australia to 14-3. The frantic 20 minutes dashed Australia’s hopes of claiming back-to-back titles.
David Warner and Aaron Finch had scored five centuries between them at the tournament, but the minute the ball moved laterally the pair looked uneasy. It is difficult to blame them for Australia capitulation. After all, the pair had added hundred for the first wicket on four instances. Warner and Finch had raised their games, but it was the next tier of players that failed to contribute when Australian needed them.
Glenn Maxwell proved once again why he is an enigma. After a couple of good outings against Pakistan in the lead up to the World Cup, Maxwell had secured a spot higher in the batting order, but the dynamic all-rounder continued to waste opportunities during the tournament. On Thursday, he arrived at the crease with still 22 overs left. But as has often been the case in recent times, he fell to dreadful shot. He was deceived by the knuckle-ball after being pushed in the series by a couple of bumpers. It was a classic two-card trick. Amateurs or park cricketer fall prey for it, but this was Maxwell, the man that is constantly touted as a match winner, but continues to buckle under pressure against quality bowling.
Before the tournament, Maxwell is touted as the ‘game-changer' but failed to live up to the hype. Asked about Maxwell's poor return at the World Cup, Aaron Finch stated: "He started off really well and got us in good positions, few starts, but he hasn't gone on with the starts like what he has done in the past and got that match-winning contributions."
Marcus Stoinis has also been given a long rope. He came into the game underdone due to a side strain and batted like a wounded warrior. His feet looked to be stuck in concrete as Adil Rashid bamboozled him with a googly. This was a stark contrast to the Stoinis that had made a swashbuckling 146 no in his second ODI for Australia. He barely contributed with the bat and like Maxwell, came unstuck when a significant contribution was required.
World Cups cannot be won without contributions from the majority of the team. Australia understand that better than any other nation. However, the tier two guys kept making the same blunders throughout the tournament.
Unlike in 2015, it was the same players that made the hefty donations. Four years ago, Glenn Maxwell, Aaron Finch, David Warner, and Steve Smith all registered three-digit scores while at 2019 it was only two – Warner and Finch.
In space of two days, the lack of penetration in the middle order has led to Australia and India being toppled in the semi-finals. It is difficult to get a lot of exposure batting at No 5 and 6 in the limited-overs format and failures are common. However, the likes of Maxwell and Stoinis did have at least three or four chances to shine but wasted the opportunities.
Australia had finished the second on the ladder after league stage and looked like one of the favourites only a week ago. But a close look at their victories and one immediately realises that a lot of their wins were scripted by the same players. It was a similar case to India. Funny enough both teams were eliminated in the semi-finals.
Australia needed more from their second-tier players. Jason Behredorff was outstanding on pitches that assisted but looked a one-trick pony against England on Thursday. Nathan Lyon has no plan B, he continues to rely on his big off-break. They are by no means bad players, but they need the maestros around them to have a fruitful day or risk getting exposed.
Jason Roy and Jonny Bairstow made a mockery out of Mitchell Starc early on and suddenly Australia realised there was no other game-changer with the ball. On the other hand, Archer complemented Woakes beautifully, Rashid had his most potent outing, Buttler inflicted an important run-out, Morgan found a method to overcome the short ball barrage and Mark Wood continued to probe.
On the day, England had more contributors they didn't rely on one or two players. Australia had steamrolled to the semi-finals on the back of a few extraordinary performances, but once the team was out of the comfort zone they simple had no support from their tier-two guys.