Genuine excuses aside, Australia’s Champions Trophy campaign was undoubtedly a disappointment. For such a powerhouse, particularly in the 50-over format, Australia being bundled out in the group stages of a major tournament is an underachievement.
Granted, Australia is likely to escape recriminations as, fortunately for them, cricket is an afterthought Down Under during the winter months with even the NBA Finals seemingly drawing more interest and media coverage than the Champions Trophy.
For those paying attention, Australia could be let off the hook due to being unluckily part of a trio of rain interrupted matches, which probably contributed to their mishmash of performances. In their second game, Australia were set for an easy romp over Bangladesh but rain intervened before the allotted amount of overs to guarantee a result and it is now the unheralded Bangladeshis making a fairy-tale semi-finals berth.
In some parts, Australia will be granted pathos due to most of their players enduring a relentless schedule for the best part of the last nine months. Perhaps fatigue contributed to their demise exacerbated by the lingering ugly pay disputehanging over Australian cricket, which surely was some type of distraction.
Of course, we’ll never know how much the off-field shenanigans played its part in Australia’s demise and the players were dismissive of it in the wake of their loss to England. Still, the white noise, prevailing uncertainty and fracturing between players and Cricket Australia (CA) was not ideal for a team looking gassed and unsettled.
Australia’s exit will probably be swept under the carpet and quickly forgotten with more pressing issues – the pay dispute’s deadline is June 30- set to dominate the headlines. However, bigger picture, there were some red flags over Australia’s performances albeit over a small sample size.
The 50-over format has long been Australia’s strong suit but they are looking increasingly shaky with major question marks over their middle-order batting. Australia has long had fulcrums in the middle order in the mould of Michael Bevan or Michael Hussey but right now the batting feels susceptible.
It is probably harsh to be overly critical of a batting line-up which only had one genuine crack in the middle – against the formidable and battle-tested England in a virtual elimination game. However, Australia’s frailties reared at the worst time, making just 277 for 9 after being well set at 161 for 2.
Moises Henriques, the veteran all-rounder, was a head-scratching choice at No.4 – a position more suited to Travis Head, who showed his class top-scoring with an unbeaten 71 batting one spot lower. Selectors will face some heat for not playing talented all-rounder Marcus Stoinis, who starred in New Zealand earlier this year with a herculean display with both bat and ball.
Australia are too heavily reliant on the top three of Aaron Finch, David Warner and Steve Smith and have missed a stabiliser in the middle order since Michael Clarke’s retirement two years ago. Stoinis or Mitchell Marsh, who is facing a long stint on the sidelines due to injury, would add balance to the team but they don’t particularly sure up the batting.
With the ball, Australia’s much-hyped “dream team” pace attack failed to materialise with James Pattinson being overlooked for leg-spinner Adam Zampa. On paper, the four-pronged arsenal of Pattinson, Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood and Pat Cummins looks impregnable but that combination fusing brute force and all-out attack is more suited to the longer format of Test cricket. Australia wasn’t helped with Starc looking rusty in his comeback from injury and he was unable to rediscover his inimitable rhythm despite the odd flashback.
Like in Test cricket, Australia’s ODI team feels top heavy with an over reliance on Starc, Warner and Smith. If they aren’t firing, Australia is susceptible fuelling doubts over the team with the World Cup just two years away. Australia’s astounding World Cup record can be partially attributed to meticulous preparation years in advance and you feel selectors will soon be making judgement calls on players with an eye towards that flagship tournament.
Attention will be made of Australia’s continual poor record in the UK, with the Champions Trophy flop just another black mark in a long list of failures over there. With the World Cup being held in the UK in 2019 – during the same summer as the Ashes – Australia would have been hoping for a tonic in conditions they have continually been unable to handle. Almost no practice matches ahead of the Champions Trophy was undesirable and manifested on-field with Australia looking underdone – a recipe for disaster in such an abbreviated tournament.
Of course, there is a lot of water to go under the bridge until the World Cup with Australia now set to enjoy a welcome breather in the next few months before a proposed tour of Bangladesh in late August. However, due to the spectre of the pay dispute, there is the worrying prospect that Australia’s best team won’t be in action for some time if a deal can’t be brokered between CA and the Australian Cricketers’ Association.
On and off the field, there is much uncertainty over the Australian cricket team.