Five-time WC lifters Australia have yet again made a strong case for themselves for the showpiece event with impeccable display of batting and bowling against India and Pakistan.
Post India’s thunder Down Under across formats, a depleted Australian side was in tatters. India had smoked Australia in the Test series for the first time and almost mauled them in the ODI format. When Kangaroos visited the subcontinent, nobody really thought the sleeping genie would be out of the bottle so soon.
The series in India ended with a scoreline 3-2. The Australian team sans David Warner and Steve Smith had defeated one of the strongest ODI sides, held as favourites by many cricket experts to lift the World Cup trophy. Discounting the series win with an argument that India were experimenting ahead of the marquee event would be unfair as many key Australians players were also not available in the playing eleven. And like Virat Kohli has rightly said multiple times – “there are no excuses”.
Remember the child in Iron Man3? Tony Stark started having panic attacks after which the kid over phone reassured him by saying, “You are a mechanic, right? Why don’t you build something?” Once you understand something, you are in more control of the situation, like Stark’s anxiety. And the Australians had to built their team when they were passing through the darkest tunnel and it almost seemed that there was no light at the end of it.
With the World Cup nearly about two months away (30 May), Australia have now extended its winning streak to seven matches. The resurgent side beat Pakistan on Friday in the fourth ODI to go 4-0 up in the five-match series.
These numbers are important as it has given the players the belief that they can beat the best on their day. Turn the clock back and Australia had played its worst cricket in the history of the game.
They were beaten in 21 of the 25 matches they played. Six bilateral series were lost. The Australians seemed to be trudging along an endless desert with only mirages of their past performances visible. The cricketing world had a good reason to believe that the five-time World Cup champs aren’t going to rise from the ashes anytime soon.
The tide has suddenly turned now. Instead of pondering over, the side has made the best of what remained at their disposal. They are now one of the favourites to win the tournament. Consider this: The team has registered two consecutive away victories, their best since 2016. Also, winning seven matches on the trot has been their best performance since 2015 ODI World Cup.
Such has been their display off late that it prompted former England great Michael Vaughan issue a warning to other teams. He tweeted: “Warning…The Aussies are coming up the rails for the WC…!!!”
Aaron Finch’s coming back to form has been a tremendous boost to the side that was once struggling to find the winning recipe. He showed glimpses during the Indian tour and came full circle with a bang against Pakistan with 398 runs to his career record at an average of 132.66. The captain has set a record for the most runs by an Australian in a five match ODI series, surpassing David Warner in the process.
Previously, Warner had amassed 368 runs at an average of 77.20 against South Africa in 2016. Usman Khawaja has also paired well with the skipper. Glenn Maxwell and Pat Cummins have also chipped in.
In all fairness, such overwhelming performance is bound to give them immense amount of confidence but it also creates a healthy conundrum of playing their best 11 at the backdrop of Smith-Warner return. The duo is set to make a comeback to the national side after serving 12-month ban for the ball-tampering incident against South Africa. The ban ended on 28 March.
Finch has admitted that it would be “hard” in the wake of recent display Australia have had against Pakistan and India.
“Especially when the side is playing so well, it’s going to be difficult. No matter who it is. At the end of the day … it’s an incredibly tough decision. Whatever balance you go with in that 15-man squad, there’s going to be some very unlucky blokes out there,” he told Reuters.
Be that as it may, the axe could fall upon Usman Khawaja. Khawaja has certainly shone with bat, accumulating 609 runs at an average of 55.36 since January. But Warner exploits in the Indian Premier League (IPL) has made a strong case for himself for the World Cup squad. In ODIs, he has over 4,300 runs with 14 times when he has reached the triple figure mark.
Smith, who has only just returned from an elbow surgery, would complement a middle order of Shaun Marsh and Peter Handscomb, with all-rounders Marcus Stoinis and Glenn Maxwell providing power-hitting in the lower-middle order.
According to Finch, the consistency of having the same team has been the reason behind the team’s recent success.
“The fact that guys are getting more of an opportunity to keep developing their role, and developing the role they’ve been asked to play or the game demands, is gold,” he said.
“That probably goes under the radar a little bit when you’re looking at teams that have been successful in the past.
“I think leading up to the 2015 World Cup, we’d had the same 15 players for a good 18 months or so.That goes a long way, not just to your culture but just an understanding of how each other plays,” the skipper said.
No matter how many cricket pundits put their fingers on England and India to lift the World Cup trophy, Australia’s recent adventures with bat and ball is reflective of their cricketing skill-sets and the prowess they posses. They have time and again shown why they are always in contention when a tournament like World Cup is round the corner.
(with inputs from Reuters)