Humiliated 5-0 by South Africa, humbled 2-0 by New Zealand and knocked out in the group stage of ICC Champions Trophy 2017, Australia are now looking down the barrel at the prospect of another overseas ODI series drubbing. This time at the hands of Virat Kohli's Indians.
Twenty-two-year-old left-arm wrist spinner Kuldeep Yadav's hat-trick snuffed out Australia's hopes of squaring the series in the second ODI against India at Eden Gardens. Chasing a hardly daunting 253, Steve Smith’s men lost their last eight wickets for 112 runs.
Since routing Ireland at Benoni a year ago, Australia have not won a single ODI in their last 12 matches on the road. Their last ODI series victory away from home came against Sri Lanka, a team India just blanked 9-0 across all formats.
Since 2015, Australia have won 22 of the 24 completed ODIs in friendly, domiciliary conditions and lost 17 of the 29 completed ODIs in the more xenophobic, overseas conditions.
While teams surely prefer the work-from-home option nowadays in the more gruelling Test format, they still enjoy touring for ODIs, a format where they taste the odd overseas success.
But Australia's abysmal ODI record on the road says otherwise.
So, what's ailing Smith and Co?
The ODI assembly line
Say what you will about the Australians but when it comes to handing out caps to fledgling talent, not many teams have been more generous. Since 2013, Australia have had 25 new one-day cricketers. They have handed the Baggy Green to 19 Australians while a total of 28 have made their T20I debut in the same period.
While the Australian selectors may have the right idea in their ambition to develop seasoned cricketers, they have not been patient enough to persist with a majority of them. Fifteen of those 25 ODI cricketers played five or fewer ODIs and hardly got the opportunity to make their mark. Only three of them have played more than 25 ODIs (Aaron Finch, James Faulkner and Travis Head) and none of them are yet a mainstay in the Australian ODI side.
Moises Henriques, Callum Ferguson and Cameron White continue to be overlooked despite consistent performances in Matador Cup, Australia’s domestic ODI tournament.
And surely, Usman Khawaja should have been brought in to replace the injured Finch.
Australia desperately need a 'finisher' akin to Michael Bevan and Michael Hussey, both exceptional middle-order batsmen who always read the situation and played accordingly.
Rather than cramming the side with all-rounders, the selectors must look for a batsman of similar ilk who can bail the team out of precarious situations even if he is playing with tail-enders on difficult pitches against the best bowling attacks.
But the selectors are a fickle, arbitrary lot who prefer the supposed utility value of all-rounders over the competence of specialist batsmen and bowlers.
Damn stability and balance, eh?
An all-round fiasco
To be called a genuine all-rounder, one HAS to be versatile with the bat and ball. BOTH disciplines. Yes, some may be more adept with the ball in hand and some with the bat. And the ones who can do both adeptly, like Gary Sobers and Jacques Kallis, are like gold dust.
But what Australia have and in plenty are mostly ineffective Made-in-China imitations of them.
Ashton Agar, Faulkner, Hilton Cartwright, Marcus Stoinis, Glenn Maxwell and Head.
Not one of them can hold a place in the Australian ODI team just based on their batting or bowling capabilities. And no, Cartwright, who has a List A average of 25 with the bat and nearly 40 with the ball, is NOT an all-rounder. Never mind, an opener.
While Faulkner dazzled in Australia's previous ODI tour of India with the bat (more than ball), his stock has since continued to plummet having turned into an underperforming asset. After having been dropped for Champions Trophy 2017, the Tasmanian now finds himself back in the squad vying for a place in the playing XI with fellow Melbourne Star Stoinis.
The 28-year-old Victorian has had a breakthrough year of sorts impressing in more than a couple of occasions with the bat, including the second ODI against India in Eden Gardens. As his bowling continues to improve with an assortment of canny pace variations, he'll hope to become a linchpin in the Australian ODI side and make a case for the upcoming Ashes Down Under.
Wading through troubled waters
Australia's persistence with Matthew Wade shows their affinity for a wicketkeeper-batsmen who can perform the role of the team's mouthpiece and official purveyor of verbal diarrhoea.
He may not be very tidy with the gloves or made a score past 10 in his last five international outings but the chronically contentious Wade embodies the essential Australian masculine ethos. And what's more important than that.
Wade's toughness reminds one not of some hard-boiled Clint Eastwood character but a vacuous right-wing provocateur.
There are alternatives. Peter Handscomb is a steady middle-order batsman and an able replacement. He rotates strike well and could allow the more dynamic Maxwell, Head and Stoinis to play their shots around him. Cameron Bancroft, who averages more than 51 in the last two seasons of Matador Cup, is also waiting in the lines. The Western Australian keeps about as well as Wade and has more shots than the paddle sweep to counter the Indian spinners.
Peter Nevill may be the best wicketkeeper in Australia but alas, he's too nice to be in the Australian team.
So, when Australia is frustrated by a match-winning partnership or he himself continues to be short of runs, expect Wade to keep chat, chat, chattering away.
Although most modern cricket teams indulge in similar psychological warfare, Australia have gained a notoriety thanks to a history of lamentable on-field behaviour.
Sledging is as Australian as Barbie, Fosters and Crocodile Dundee.
Joshing Australian pacers’ stark fitness standards
With both the World No 1 ODI bowler Josh Hazlewood and No 3 Mitchell Starc recovering from injuries, Australia continues to deal with an ever-worsening epidemic as fans lament the sheer inability of the so-called Australian Fast Bowling Cartel (FBC) to stay fit.
A close look at the stats reveal Australia's dependency on Starc. With the dangerous left-armer leading the bowling attack, Australia lost only seven out of 40 ODIs since 2015. When Starc was rested or injured, Australia won a mere seven out of 20 ODIs in the same period.
While Nathan Coulter-Nile and Pat Cummins are no straightforward prospects for the opposition batsmen to handle, there's a certain potency to the Starc-Hazlewood opening combination that Australia are sorely missing in ODIs.
The prospect of Starc, Hazlewood, Cummins and James Pattinson all being fit and available at the same time is mouth-watering but also unprecedented.
One can't possibly think of another international team that has been afflicted by injuries to its quicks as chronically as Australia.
But fans wonder at the possibility of them banding together for the upcoming Ashes.
And in their efforts to prepare for the supposed cardinal Test series against England, Australia have sent an ODI squad packed with second-rate all-rounders to India without their head coach Darren Lehmann.
If Ashes is the chief priority for the players, selectors and administrators, why schedule a meaningless bilateral ODI series against India?
While there’s no doubt the Australian ODI team needs a major overhaul, there’s perhaps cause to revamp the committee in charge of their selection too.
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