Champions Trophy 2017: Steve Smith-led Australia look strong, but lack slightly in balance
Despite being in a tough group, Australia definitely start the tournament as one of the favourites.
Australia are the most successful side over the history of ICC tournaments with five World Cups and a Champions Trophy in their cabinet, and they are ready to unleash a battery of express fast bowlers on English shores in June which will have them feeling optimistic about their chances of adding another global tournament trophy to their impressive collection.
While the Australians have dominated one day tournaments around the world, being the current world champions, they haven’t been as dominant in the Champions Trophy and its many incarnations. In the last edition back in 2013, also held in England, they failed to win a game and finished on the bottom of their group — a surprising and shocking result.
Under captain Steve Smith, this side will be looking to make amends for the 2013 embarrassment and show that they are capable of taking out the tournament. The number two ranked ODI side in the world has assembled a squad with plenty of firepower, one that appears capable of amassing huge totals in quick time and has plenty of pace to burn in the bowling attack.
Australian fans will be salivating at the prospect of Mitchell Starc, James Pattinson, Pat Cummins and Josh Hazlewood unleashing on hapless batting line-ups, perhaps as a preview to the fire and brimstone approach they are expected to unleash in this summer’s Ashes.
The fact that all four, in particular Cummins and Pattinson, are fit and injury-free will be the biggest boost for Australian fans. With Starc returning from injury in time for the tournament, the prospect of all four playing together is exciting, especially if conditions in England favour the seam bowlers.
Australia have selected only one frontline spinner in young leg spinner Adam Zampa, who has been impressive in his short ODI career and was Australia’s leading wicket-taker in 2016. While Zampa was forced to play second fiddle to South African Imran Tahir in this year’s Indian Premier League, the South Australian has been a star for his country in recent times.
Zampa’s only spin support will have to come from the likes of batting all-rounders Travis Head and Glenn Maxwell. However, this could prove problematic if the pitches in this tournament are similar in nature to the slow and low surfaces prepared in 2013. Smith has been reluctant to bowl Maxwell in recent times, which makes Head his go-to option as a part-time spinner. Head might even play as the lone spinner in the side if Smith and coach Darren Lehmann prefer an all-out pace attack.
John Hastings will also be pushing for a place in the team after being behind only Zampa in the wicket-takers' table in 2016. While the big Victorian’s ability to clear the ropes in the lower order will work in his favour, he might struggle to find a place ahead of the ‘fab four’ quicks.
Australia’s batting is packed full of power and looks a daunting prospect for opposition sides. If the pitches for the Champions Trophy follow the worldwide trend of being "glorified highways" for ODI cricket then the Australian’s aggressive stroke players will have little to fear from the swinging ball.
With David Warner in terrific ODI form, after another dominant display in the IPL, Australia have one of the world’s best ODI opener to kick-start their innings. Warner’s opening partner is likely to be the explosive Aaron Finch, someone who does struggle if there is movement in the air but is damaging when conditions suit him. Head might be asked to open to accommodate the likes of Maxwell, Marcus Stoinis and Chris Lynn in the middle order.
Lynn is an exciting prospect. While he is yet to show his wares in the 50-overs format, followers of the Big Bash League and IPL will be well-versed in the hard hitting Queenslander’s ability to cause carnage in a very short space of time. With Lynn, Warner, Finch, Maxwell and Stoinis in their ranks, the Australians have a batting line-up full of firepower. However, other than Smith, and possibly Head, they might be lacking batsmen who can knuckle down and graft a long innings if the situation requires.
With the unpredictability of their batting stocks evident, it will be experienced stars Smith and Warner who will have to lead the way. The addition of all-rounder Moises Henriques who has been a consistent performer in domestic cricket for years will help add stability to the batting while providing backup to the seamers with fellow all-rounder Stoinis.
Overall, the Australian squad looks strong on paper, if lacking slightly in balance. From the squad selection it is clear the World Cup champions are going to rely on their strengths of power-hitting and out-and-out fast bowling to try and claim their second Champions Trophy.
Their task won’t be easy as they’ve been placed in arguably the tougher of the two groups alongside hosts and arch-rivals England, Trans-Tasman rivals New Zealand and Bangladesh, who are no longer easy prey in ODI cricket and managed to qualify for the tournament ahead of the West Indies.
Despite being in a tough group, Australia definitely start the tournament as one of the favourites when they take on New Zealand on 2 June at Edgbaston before playing Bangladesh and finishing the group stage with a tantalising contest against their old enemy England on 10 June.
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Labuschagne, however, credited the Indian bowlers for being disciplined early on and hardly giving away any scoring opportunities.
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Lewis, who scored 16 first-class centuries in a career spanning nearly two decades, is also an experienced coach, having led Durham to three trophies between 2013 and 2016.