Australia’s bizarre preparation for the 2016 World T20
Being whitewashed by a country is never a good feeling. But in cricket, the hunter sometimes becomes the hunted. No stranger to whitewashes in Australia, India got its own sweet revenge defeating Australia 3-0 in the T20 series.
India go into the WorldT20 that they are hosting in March this year as firm favourites. That comprehensive series win helped them leapfrog from No.8 to No.1. Interestingly, it was a strange quid pro quo, with Australia being pushed down to No.8 after that loss – so tight is the ICC Rankings table.
10 rating points divide the top 8 countries and just 4 divide the top 5. But, Australia didn’t expect being thrashed this way, on home soil. Fielding a second string team is one thing – but preparing for a World Cup in the sub-continent playing three T20 series in Australia, New Zealand and then in South Africa is as bizarre as it can get – that too from a country that has been one of the Big Three in cricket for as far as we can go back.
While their top 5 batters have all done reasonably well in the IPL, it could be the bowling that will be Australia’s Achilles Heel in India.
The last 12 months and the whitewash
In terms of T20, Australia doesn’t have a lot to show for. Prior to the 0-3 whitewash against India they had played just one T20 against England which they lost in Cardiff. That is not much data to find a pattern but Australia losing 4 games on a trot in any form of the game can make the cricketing world sit up and take notice.
Australia won the ODI series 4-1 against India, but none anticipated what was to follow in the T20s. To be fair, the ODI series was far closer than the final scoreline. India made sure that part was noticed with their performances in the T20 series. What was surprising was the way Australia caved in.
They lost the first T20 in Adelaide by 37 runs after conceding 188. They lost the second at MCG by 27 runs after conceding 184. And then they lost the third at SCG by 7 wickets despite posting 197 on the back of a Shane Watson century.
Australia managed to take 9 Indian wickets in all three T20s put together and came second not just in batting and bowling but even in fielding. It didn’t help that Steve Smith wasn’t playing, another weird decision given that Smith will play the World T20 as the Australian skipper. He sits out against the team that would probably be Australia’s toughest competitor.
Australia has never won the World Cup, making their team experiments seem even more bizarre. It isn’t that Australia unearthed anything despite their experiments. Watson’s form with bat and ball was a plus but there was hardly much to write home about, with Shaun Marsh being their third highest run-getter in three games with just 32 runs in 2 T20Is.
Australia had just one bowler in the top 6 wicket-takers and that was Watson – hardly something that inspires confidence. John Hastings and Kane Richardson, the finds of the ODI series got one game each – both disasters. Shaun Tait had pace but functioned more like a water sprinkler.
The disappointment was dished out by James Faulkner and young leg-break bowler, Cameron Boyce as well leaving a lot to be achieved in a short time-frame.
The series preceding the World T20
Australia, which had only recently played against New Zealand, is playing their Trans-Tasmanian rivals again. Besides, it is a full-blown series with three ODIs and 2 Tests.
They lost the ODI series 1-2 in Brendon McCullum’s farewell series despite having Smith back in the camp. One wonders if exhaustion might set in, given Australia have played non-stop cricket starting from the West Indies tour, followed by the Ashes. They are currently playing in New Zealand, almost a paradigm shift from the conditions that will be available in India.
Three T20s in South Africa
Australia has hardly had a break since their tremendous ODI World Cup victory. But, their focus on World T20 will come into question once again given just a week prior to the World T20, they will be playing three T20s against South Africa in South Africa.
The point of practicing under conditions far removed from the sub-continental conditions is lost on cricket pundits. Not only is it a lose-lose situation for Australia, given a win will hardly be an indicator of their preparations for India, it also means more matches for an unsettled team in conditions that suit their brand of cricket – something that they wouldn’t encounter in India – a place where they have traditionally been weak.
A series against a sub-continental team would have made a lot more sense. Given India and Sri Lanka are playing a series, Australia could have at least practiced their wares against Pakistan or Bangladesh.
Australia weren’t favourites for a T20 World Cup in the sub-continent. They are a team playing a lot of cricket and almost competing with a third string team in some games. Australia isn’t taking the T20 World Cup seriously despite never having won it. That is extremely surprising.
Three of Australia’s top 4 T20 run-getters are playing but they have a bowling line-up that doesn’t look penetrative for the shorter batting paradises in India. Add to that the fact that they don’t have a good spinner and Nathan Lyon is still not a part of their short-format plans and Australia have a bowl of soup to deal with!