ENGLAND TOUR OF AUSTRALIA
“We probably could have got up around 340 which is probably where we needed to be” – Smith © Getty
Testament to the hectic scheduling of international cricket, Australia’s Ashes afterglow has quickly dimmed. Less than a week ago, a buoyant Australia was celebrating a convincing 4-0 Test series triumph over England but, right now, they are smarting after a convincing five-wicket defeat to England at the MCG on Sunday (January 14).
It was Australia’s eighth loss from their last nine completed One-Day Internationals (ODI) heightening growing concern over their spiralling 50-over performances. As evidenced by their sheer domination of the World Cup, Australia’s best format has long been in the ODI arena but the perennial powerhouses have struggled to recapture the magic for some time.
Against a confident England, the best ODI team since the last World Cup, Australia find themselves in an early hole in the five-match series. Losing a home series to England would be undoubtedly disappointing, a sour footnote after a brilliant Ashes reclamation, but, more importantly, dent Australia’s build towards the big prize of next year’s World Cup.
Traditionally, Australia plans about 18 months ahead of ODI cricket’s showpiece event and, accordingly, selectors have started experimenting. The biggest area of concern has revolved around Australia’s soft underbelly of a middle-order, which notably reared during recent struggles.
Against England at the MCG, half-centuries from allrounders Mitchell Marsh and Marcus Stonis, and an energetic late flurry from wicketkeeper Tim Paine, was encouraging and the main positives to come out of a disappointing defeat. Marsh and Stoinis are capable of late innings pyrotechnics but Australia still feels like they are missing a measured batsman to consolidate the middle-order in the mould of former stars Michael Bevan and Michael Hussey.
No.4 Travis Head, who was preferred over shock selection Cameron White, looms as a young batsman groomed for such a role but failed in game one and his position is under the spotlight. Rare failures from superstars David Warner and Steve Smith exposed Australia’s batting despite a brilliant century from opener Aaron Finch. Their score of 304-8 seemed imposing but, these days, is hardly impregnable and Australia’s total proved to be underwhelming against an explosive England batting line-up – which feels considerably more dynamic in comparison.
“I think we probably left ourselves a little bit short (with the bat),” Smith told reporters after the game. “If a couple of batters just stayed for a little bit longer and we gave ourselves the chance to really go hard at the back end, we probably could have got up around 340 which is probably where we needed to be.”
Despite a late wobble, an aggressive England comfortably reached the target in a complete reversal of the Ashes, where Australia’s star-studded attack enjoyed a stranglehold. Australia was without their frontline pace attack with star quick Josh Hazlewood rested and Pat Cummins set to follow suit in game two. Mitchell Starc, Australia’s spearhead, is likely to also be given a spell at some stage.
Without their first-choice pace stocks, Australia – much like the drawn Boxing Day Test, which Starc missed – felt weakened and vulnerable despite a serviceable debut performance from Andrew Tye who finished with an economic 0-43 from 10 overs. The Big Bash League star conjured trademark slower balls from his bag of tricks but there is still uncertainly over whether his skill-set translates as well in the 50-over arena compared to his Twenty20 wheelhouse.
“I thought AJ (Tye) bowled pretty well, he mixed things up,” Smith said. “He did what we want from him… something different.”
After being the lynchpin of Australia’s Test attack, wily offspinner Nathan Lyon’s continual omission from the ODI team is set to be critiqued after legspinner Adam Zampa struggled with the expensive return of 0-72 from 10 overs. Lyon has taken 17 wickets from just 13 ODIs at an average of 34.82 but hasn’t played in this format for Australia since mid-2016.
Despite the crushing defeat, Smith was not particularly crestfallen knowing it took a record breaking knock from Jason Roy for England to chase down 305. “That was some innings from Roy,” Smith admitted. “He played spectacularly well. Didn’t give us a chance. He came out, chanced his arm, played very aggressively from ball one.
“They got off to an absolute flyer. We tried everything to take wickets but wasn’t to be tonight,” he added.
For the first time during a dominant home stand, Australia endured the bitter pill of defeat and face a crucial game two in Brisbane on January 19. Before then, they will need to find solutions for an ODI team mired in a prolonged slump.