ICC Champions Trophy 2017: Australia’s lack of killer instinct and ideas cost them semi-final spot

Australia’s rain-interrupted Champions Trophy campaign came to a rain-interrupted end at Edgbaston on Saturday night, but despite the sodden English weather they have no one to blame but themselves after succumbing to arch-rivals England in Birmingham.

Against Bangladesh, Australia appeared to have lifted their intensity after a poor showing in their tournament opener against New Zealand. However, the lethargy they displayed against the Kiwis returned to the fore against England in what was a must-win game for Steve Smith’s men.

Australia's David Warner. AFP

Australia's David Warner. AFP

A ruthless streak, a hard edge, and the ability to crush an opponent when they have the foot on the throat are traits one has come to associate with Australian cricket, certainly the all-conquering Australian teams of yesteryear. The absence of these trademark traits, particularly with the bat, as well as a lack of ideas with the ball ultimately cost Australia the match against their barnstorming Ashes rivals and saw them dumped out of the Champions Trophy, winless in the group stage, for the second straight tournament.

On a flat Edgbaston pitch full of runs, Eoin Morgan won the toss and sent Australia in to bat, perhaps due to the threat of rain while also knowing his own power-packed batting line-up was capable of chasing any score down. When Australia reached 40 without loss in the eighth over, Morgan would have been forgiven for thinking he would be in for a big chase, but David Warner’s dismissal for 21 was going to be just one in a string of Australian batsmen getting starts on a good pitch and not making it count.

While it took a peach from Mark Wood to send Warner back to the pavilion, it was more innocuous deliveries that led to the soft dismissals of Aaron Finch, Moises Henriques and Steve Smith.

Henriques clearly looks out of his depth as an ODI number four, and his impetuous swipe against Adil Rashid will do little to strengthen his claims for that spot going forward. Despite the all-rounder’s failure, Finch and Smith were far more culpable for Australia falling short of a defendable total on a flat pitch. Finch, who looked out of sorts in the first two games, found form against his favourite opponent and looked set for a huge innings that could have taken Australia to well over 300. But he fell when he tried to launch Ben Stokes over mid-off on 68. During his 64-ball innings, the hard-hitting opener looked assured and was savage on anything short and on any width he was offered — and he was being dished up plenty of both from all the England seamers other than Wood, but his lack of patience and ruthlessness saw him throw away a golden opportunity for another ODI century.

Smith is Australia’s batting pillar, and fans have become accustomed to seeing the Australian captain pile on mammoth scores with monotonous regularity, but he too lacked the ruthless edge to put England away after he had crossed 50. Once again, it was just an innocuous length delivery from an England seamer, this time Wood, which accounted for another well set Australian batsmen as Smith tamely chipped the ball straight to Liam Plunkett at mid-off.

It was left to Travis Head, who batted brilliantly for 71 not out and perhaps should have batted at four, to take Australia to 277/9 as the wickets tumbled around him. The story could have been very different had Finch or Smith placed greater value on their wickets.

Australia’s total never looked enough, but they gave themselves a real sniff of an upset victory and a semi-final berth when Josh Hazlewood and Mitchell Starc reduced England to 35/3 before the heavens opened for the first time. Momentum was with Australia, and the expectation was they would ruthlessly dismantle the English resistance and cruise to victory. However, as they did with the bat, Australia let the opportunity slip as Morgan and Stokes counter-attacked and came after the Australian pacers.

The two left-handers put on 159 for the fourth wicket before a mid-pitch mix up saw Morgan run out by Adam Zampa for 87. During their match-winning partnership, the English duo were particularly harsh on Pat Cummins, with the speedster conceding 55 runs off just eight overs and once again lacking the control to quell the onslaught, just as he had done against New Zealand. Morgan and Stokes were given plenty of short balls, and plenty of width to feed on by the Australian seamers, and Smith’s decision to turn to the part time off-spin of Head before Zampa allowed them to settle against spin too.

Zampa was brought on late against Bangladesh, and while that move didn’t cost Australia, Smith’s reluctance to bring him on against the left-handers was just another example of an Australian side bereft of ideas in the field and with the ball against the tournament hosts. As England piled on the runs, variations such as slower balls and cross-seam deliveries from the Australian seamers were conspicuous by their absence, and once their go-to plans had failed there appeared to be no plan B.

In the end it was fitting rain brought an end to Australia’s tournament as it had been a dominant figure throughout their lacklustre campaign. Despite the weather playing spoilsport, Australia will reflect on their three matches, and particularly their do-or-die final group encounter against the old enemy and rue the missed opportunities. This Australian side has undoubted talent, but before their next ODI assignment they will need to rediscover the killer instinct that is synonymous with Australian cricket.

Updated Date: Jun 11, 2017 10:02 AM

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