Australia will overhaul their ODI set-up in the aftermath of a 4-1 defeat to England at home that stretched a pattern of underperformance to a year’s duration, and the captain Steven Smith pointed to the poorly batting returns of himself and his deputy David Warner as key reasons for the team’s white-ball decline.
Smith is set to take a much-needed break ahead of next month’s Test tour to South Africa, with Warner leading the T20 team through a triangular series against England and New Zealand. The leadership pair managed a mere 175 runs between them over the five matches, in sharp contrast to the consistent displays of Joe Root, named Man of a Series in which he did not face the burden of captaincy, given Eoin Morgan’s fearless approach to the role since 2015.
While denying that Australia needed to move towards England’s model of split captaincy roles, Smith said it was imperative that both he and Warner started performing again with the bat. The team’s next 50-over assignment will be five matches also against England during the northern summer, an opportunity to measure how well Smith, the coach Darren Lehmann, the selectors and the team performance manager Pat Howard can address multiple problems evident across this series. Warner has looked similarly listless to Smith in recent weeks, and may also need a break of his own before South Africa.
“I’m happy leading these boys at the moment. Unfortunately, I haven’t done as well with the bat in this series as I would have liked,” Smith said in Perth after Tom Curran’s reverse swing ensured a closing defeat. “Probably both me and Dave as the senior players, haven’t stepped up. We were talking about it just before and that really hurts your team when your two senior players aren’t scoring the runs that they need to be. I’d like to keep taking this team forward and leading the boys and doing the best I can.
“I hope he [Warner] will be OK. I’m sure if he’s not he’ll have a word and see how he’s going. Obviously South Africa’s an important series for us, as is the T20 series now. We’ve got to start playing better white-ball cricket as a whole. I’m looking forward to this rest. It’s been a long summer. I haven’t contributed the way I would have liked in this series. A couple of weeks off now to I guess refresh, re-charge and get myself ready for what’s a challenging South African tour.”
Both Smith and the selection chairman Trevor Hohns have conceded Australia must review the way the team approaches the limited-overs game, though Lehmann is yet to express a similar sentiment publicly. Smith identified new-ball bowling and middle-order batting as the areas in need of most improvement, given that only once in the series, on Australia Day in Adelaide, was either discipline performed to a standard able to bring victory.
“Starting with the ball and middle order collapses,” Smith said when asked about problem areas. “It’s been a trend for us for about 12 months and you just can’t afford to do it. You’ve got to have your top four scoring big runs and doing it consistently day in, day out. We haven’t been able to do that. We collapse in the middle and don’t give ourselves a chance to use the power that we’ve got at the back end of games. We’ve got some strong boys that can clear the rope at will but we’re not getting ourselves in the positions to enable them to do that.
“We’ve been outplayed in four of the five games. Looking at the series, the batting collapses that we’ve talked about have continued. Our starting with the ball hasn’t been great in four of the five games. You can’t afford to do both those things against good opposition like this England one-day team at the moment. We’re going to have to have a talk about it. It’s probably been a good year since we’ve played good one-day cricket. We’ve got a lot of improving to do if we want to be a force in the World Cup in just over 12 months’ time.
While happy with the performance of the clean-striking Marcus Stoinis upon his promotion to No. 3, Smith pointed out that the allrounder could have sealed the game by staying on for a century, much as Aaron Finch had been unable to go on from centuries in Melbourne and Brisbane to the sort of score – 180 – put up by Jason Roy to set the tone for England at the MCG.
“I thought he played well. It would have been great to see him get a hundred and be not out at the end and get the boys home. It’s probably those little things that we’ve been missing for a while now,” Smith said. “Those guys that are going on to get a score aren’t going on to make a big one and help get the boys home and others batting around them. Those are the things that have really hurt us. He played well for his 90-odd but it would have been great to 120 not out and get the guys home.
“We haven’t been able to close out those games. Today I guess we were in a position where we should have chased down that 260 really if we were being honest with ourselves. You can’t afford to do that against quality oppositions. I think for us it’s just been about decision making … making poor decisions with the bat more often than not. Something’s got to change in that aspect.
“We’ve got some thinking to do before the next lot of one dayers. I guess the beauty with Marcus is that he can bat anywhere. We’ve seen him bat really well at the and use the power he’s got, he’s a strong lad and can hit it in anywhere, and clear the ropes anywhere in the world. He can bat in a whole heap of positions.”
While Adam Zampa offered an improved showing in his third consecutive appearance, Smith said that the claims of Nathan Lyon would need to be considered in the spin department, also. “After this series we’re going to have a good, hard look at I guess everything with our one-day cricket. If he’s in our plans going forward then so be it,” Smith said. “He went back after the Test matches and bowled pretty well in the Big Bash, so his name will certainly come up that’s for sure. I think he’s a great competitor, and he spins the ball hard so it’s obviously something to talk about.”