If 4-0 was a clear statement about the gap between Australia and England during the Ashes, then another figure says plenty about the fact that Steven Smith’s team have a lot of work ahead of them to become genuine contenders for the 2019 World Cup. Last year, Australia won only five of 15 ODIs, endured a winless Champions Trophy, where two of their three games were washed out, and slid to No. 3 in the ICC rankings.
Aaron Finch, a fixture in the team for most of the past five years, witnessed a pattern of batting collapses over that period, in New Zealand, England, and then in India. With the benefit of a few months’ worth of reflection, he reasoned that this was the key area Australia had to address in order to start building for the next global tournament.
On the selection front, the replacement of Matthew Wade and Glenn Maxwell with Tim Paine and *insert name here* appears to be directed at addressing those mid-innings wobbles, something Finch said had prevented the team from building the sorts of high totals now considered non-negotiable, given the hyper-aggression shown by teams such as India and England.
“Being still 18 months out, there’s quite a lot of cricket to come before that World Cup, so I’m sure there’ll be a little bit of experimentation with the key seven, eight or nine of the squad going forward,” Finch said. “Probably still going to be in and around the squad anyway. When you look at guys who are bankers in the side, Smith obviously, Starc, Cummins, Hazlewood, Davey (David) Warner, who no doubt will be there in the future, but I think there’s a chance to tinker with a few things and make sure we get our balance right.
“In the Champions Trophy, we probably didn’t put enough partnerships together with the bat. A lot of back-to-back wickets, and we know how important that is in stalling run rates and creating momentum. So we were probably losing too many early wickets through that middle period of the game and not allowing us a real big platform to take into that last 10-15 overs to put a real assault on the opposition.
“When we were playing in India, a similar thing happened, we’d lose clumps of wickets. And we know playing India in India is very tough, starting against spin on some wickets that had a bit of turn in them. That’s one part we can improve and probably through that middle part just bank it a little bit more and really load up for the back 15 overs.”
The balance of the squad intrigues, given the inclusion of both Mitchell Marsh, after his standout batting displays during the Ashes series, and Marcus Stoinis, following a series of stout performances in losing efforts in New Zealand and India last year. At the same time, the ambiguity over Maxwell’s future, given that the selectors are yet to decide on the replacement for Chris Lynn after his withdrawal with a calf injury, had Finch describing how he had seen his fellow Victorian prepare with the sort of diligence Smith has asked for.
“He’s disappointed, he backs his ability and game to be very successful in international cricket,” Finch said of Maxwell. “He knows that averaging 22 over his last 20 games wasn’t what the side needed from him. But he’s gone back and he’s in great form, he’s peeled off runs and that’s all you can do. They say make runs and make a statement, and he certainly has done that.
“He’s playing some really good cricket at the moment. The way he’s batting is as good as I’ve seen in terms of his tempo and stuff like that. He’s changed a little bit from being all guns blazing from the first ball to giving himself a little bit of time, and I suppose the Stars have been losing a few early wickets, so it’s allowed him to bat for that little bit longer before he has to take a risk. If the opportunity comes, he’ll take it with both hands.
“In the lead-up to the Shield season, his training was fantastic. I think his results have reflected that over the last couple of months in terms of his pure output of runs in that format. Now he’s getting runs in the T20s as well, consistent runs, which has been one part he would’ve liked to address a bit earlier, and just make sure when he is in good form he’s backing that up. You can’t really argue with a couple of 60s, a 290 and then a 96 in three back-to-back games in the Shield.”
England, meanwhile, went on their own journey of reinvention after failing to contend for the World Cup, won by Australia at home in 2015, settling on a more heavy-hitting style that Finch said had been a subject of plenty of interest among Smith’s men, not least when they were soundly beaten during the Champions Trophy. “They’ve played some great one-day cricket in the last couple of years, a different leader with Eoin Morgan leading their side,” Finch said.
“I think the one-day and T20 formats really suit the way they play: ultra aggressive. Beating us in the Champions Trophy, there’s still a few scars there for the boys. But, overall, they’re a pretty good side, plenty of guys who can give it a smack with the bat, so I’d expect them to play hard. We’ve played them a few times over the last couple of years, and the structure of their side hasn’t changed a hell of a lot. They’ve got similar players, and anyone who’s come into the side has played a similar-type role to the ones that have gone out.
“You have guys like Hales and Roy and Bairstow at the top of the order, who can give it a smack. They’ve got a side that takes risks their whole innings and looks to put the foot down for a long period of that 50 overs with the bat. With the ball, they’ve been very similar for a long time now. So we do have a lot of knowledge there, but there’s always a chance to continue learning and come up with some new plans for different players.”