Even the rain gods seem to have no mercy on Australia. Why else would the heavy downpour in Ranchi during the first T20I stop just a few minutes before the match was about to be called off? The visitors had just 118 on the board and sorely needed more rain to avert a defeat. Instead, not only did the heavens close up but the groundstaff also worked frantically to dry the outfield in time for a six-over chase.
As anticipated, the six overs served little purpose than mortifying the already worn out Australian bowlers. The hosts lost just a single wicket and reaffirmed their dominance over Australia in this format, which had begun a decade ago when Yuvraj Singh dumped them to all corners of Durban in the semi-finals of the inaugural T20 World Cup.
It was India's seventh successive T20I victory over Australia but in reality, the visitors have no one to blame but themselves. Their team selections have been lamentable, their intent against spin feeble, and their planning miserable.
Australia might have come up short in a number of departments over the past few weeks, but what stands out is their clouded mindset regarding line-ups, bowling changes, batting against spin, pacing an innings... in short, everything.
There has been multiple talk from their camp about conjuring up plans to ward off India's twin wrist spin threat, but when it comes to executing these plans, the Aussies have fired blanks; they were unravelled by some brainless shots, shoddy footwork and pointless jabs.
"I think the ODI group has played spin pretty well for a while. Obviously, we are still learning in the Test format," Steven Smith had said before the ODI series started.
However, by the end of the series, he realised that the mindless talk wasn't translating into performances on the field. "We're just not taking our words out in the middle and doing it with action, unfortunately. We have glimpses of it, we play well in periods and then we get ourselves in trouble, probably from poor decision making under pressure, that's probably what you've got to put it down to most of all. it's something we need to improve on because it's not good enough," Smith then said.
Against a similar bowling attack in the T20Is, Australia are again finding the going tough. Despite most of their players spending close to two months in India playing T20 cricket in the IPL, there seems to be little difference in their approach and mindset towards playing in the subcontinent.
Their cluttered thinking is clearly not working and they sorely need a fresh perspective. Instead of all the talk, the Aussies need to focus on analysis, and get their support staff together to understand where the faults lie. They have made quite a few mistakes but these are by no means irreversible failings. Here are a few things the Aussies could do differently:
Rejigged batting order:
At Ranchi, Australia seemed to have arranged their batting line-up in the descending order of strike-rates. All their big hitters were at the top, while guys like Moises Henriques, Tim Paine and Travis Head manned the lower middle-order.
They opened with Warner and Finch with the dynamic Glenn Maxwell coming in at No 3; Head and Henriques were tasked with handling the spinners, which was a puzzling choice given Henriques averages 16.00 and Head manages just 28.50 against spin across formats in international cricket.
Chahal and Kuldeep were no doubt spectacular, but it is strange that the Aussies depended on their two worst players of spin to counter their threat.
Tim Paine, a top-order batsman, was brought in at No 7 though it is quite evident that he is no finisher. He still did his part with a run-a-ball 17, better than what you would expect from someone playing completely out of position. If Australia did need to shuffle their batting positions, it had to come keeping in mind the Indian spinners would choke them in the middle period. But they lacked experience and guidance in the middle-order and once the top-order fizzled, the game was all but over.
Why is Glenn Maxwell not opening?
This admittedly feels like a pointless question, given Australia rely on two very successful openers in Aaron Finch and David Warner. But the last two times Glenn Maxwell played T20Is — in Sri Lanka last year — he opened the batting, and scored a blistering 65-ball 145 and followed it up with a 29-ball 66.
With Steven Smith absent and Australia lacking experience in the middle-order, it would have been ideal for one of Finch or Warner to move down the order and ease the pressure on the new guys in the batting line-up's belly. Furthermore, Finch and Warner have the experience of batting in the middle-order, having done so in the IPL — Finch for Gujarat Lions, and Warner a few years ago for Sunrisers Hyderabad.
Besides, Maxwell loves to open the innings and had been pretty vocal about it during the Sri Lankan series. "I really enjoy batting at the top of the order in T20 cricket," he said. "I find it's easier to get into the innings. When you're in the middle-order, you have to be proactive the whole time. It seems like if you get out playing a big shot at that stage of the game, it all falls on your shoulders."
When you have a player like Glenn Maxwell, you need to know how to use him. He's a genuine freak, and the ideal way to maximise his value is to let him do what he pleases. If that means pushing Warner or Finch to the middle-order, so be it; the 'Big Show', as he is popularly known, should be given more freedom to explode.
Directing the newbies in the squad
Australia have quite a few fresh faces in their squad, and while that is good, it needs to be ensured they get enough freedom to express themselves on the field. The likes of Jason Behrendoff and Andrew Tye are fairly new to the set-up, and while Tim Paine is experienced, he is only just returning to the squad.
Using them in unfamiliar roles and discarding them after a few games serves little purpose. If they trust players enough to bring them into the playing XI, they should also be open minded enough to trust them with responsibilities. Behrendoff, who was asked to open the bowling, should continue doing that in the next two games as well, especially since the left-arm seamer is adept at this role in domestic cricket.
Tye, on the other hand, could be a potent weapon at the fag end of the innings where his immaculate yorkers, which earned him a hat-trick in IPL 2017, could come in handy. Dan Christian, who relies on cutters and a variety of slower deliveries, can partner Tye at the death.
Tim Paine, meanwhile, should ideally slot in within the top 4, and there is enough room to accommodate him there. It's outrageous that Australia initially left out Marcus Stoinis from the T20I squad, but Steve Smith's injury means the all-rounder is back, and he ought to be a certain starter when they walk out for the second T20I.
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