Sorry about the verbose title of this piece, but it was important that you understood what’s happening right in front of you.
Winning a Tri Series final by 112 runs usually means that all is going splendidly.
Do it in a series against India and England, while going undefeated, makes it even sweeter.
Achieve it after beating South Africa 4-1 in the series prior and one would normally expect some special recognition to be bestowed upon the team. Knighthoods perhaps?
Winning form cannot be scoffed at. It is something that the English have dreamed about for millennia.
However, there is trouble brewing Down Under. All is not as rosy as it appears on the surface.
Australia may be winning, but they enter the World Cup with multiple issues. All are serious enough to derail their campaign.
Who is the Captain?
If we were playing Jeopardy, the correct answers could be any of ‘Who is Michael Clarke / George Bailey / Steve Smith?’, depending on the day.
All fine men, but I am yet to see a cricket team succeed with 3 leaders all battling to put a stamp on the squad.
Michael Clarke is the incumbent, but he hasn’t played an international match since making a century under duress in the Adelaide Test match. That was in December. We are now in February.
The Australian selectors have given him until the second World Cup match to prove his fitness.
No doubt, a fit Clarke adds to the Aussie team. But an unfit one, who has been passing comment on his team mates on Channel Nine and is reportedly at odds with the selectors is not ideal.
Clarke has been trying to hold reign on the team from the outside, and this surely must be a distraction.
Bailey, the ODI Vice Captain has filled the void in the recent Tri Series. Winning the tournament undefeated while standing in as captain is no small feat.
However his own form with the bat has been poor. Only 1 half century in his last 14 innings. Not quite an Alastair Cook performance, but definitely not at the level required by a skipper leading into the world’s biggest ODI cricket tournament.
Finally, what about Steve Smith?
The Test captain heir apparent has never captained a losing Australian side in any format. He is the world’s most in form batsman and the dressing room has rallied around his humble and fresh style. Some closer to the scene are suggesting that the players already behave like he is their natural leader, irrespective of who is wearing the yellow armband.
So, we have three leaders and an official pecking order. The guy at the bottom is the one who holds the referent power. The one at the top has been unofficially moved on. The one in the middle probably isn’t in the best XI on form.
World Cups are not won when the team doesn’t know who the chief is.
The best batting lineup is unknown
Assuming Clarke is ruled out through injury, Australia could battle through the World Cup tournament with only 4 specialist batsmen in the side.
Warner, Finch, Smith and Bailey.
This is one batsman too short and places too much pressure on the all rounders to post the scores necessary to win the big matches.
Even if Clarke plays and Bailey drops to number 5, the team now looks unbalanced.
The selectors are keen to see Watson, Maxwell, Mitch Marsh and Faulkner all in the team together. The question is how do you make that work?
The best way would be to drop Finch. His runs are easily replaced by Watson opening, plus you get the added bonus of his handy overs and brilliant slips catching. It creates flexibility and strengthens the batting.
Watson averages 46 when batting at number 1. Finch’s average is 10 runs behind.
Finch will make zero or plenty. Watson will make 30-80 almost every time. I’d rather bank that than gamble.
So I what should the batting line up look like?
Warner, Finch, Smith, Bailey, Mitch Marsh, Maxwell, Haddin, Faulkner, Johnson, Starc, Hazelwood
Warner, Watson, Smith, Bailey, Mitch Marsh, Maxwell, Haddin, Faulkner, Johnson, and 2 of either Starc/Hazelwood/Doherty.
The second lineup, while subtlety different, allows for the bowling options to be more flexible. By keeping Finch in the opening spot, Australia has robbed itself of fielding it’s best team.
The ability to draw on up to 7 bowlers could be important. Defence wins World Cups.
Should Bailey continue to struggle, Clarke’s replacement could replace him. Alternatively, an extra batsman could be played and a bowler dropped should it be deemed appropriate. However, it’s not a strategy I would condone.
There is also now a question mark over Faulkner’s fitness. If he fails to come up, Moises Henriques will slot straight into the the number 8 spot.
Questions remain over who is the replacement for Clarke should he be withdrawn. The front runner was Cameron White, although his Big Bash results were poor. He has now been overtaken by Shaun Marsh. He could replace Bailey in the line up if needed due to form, or bat number 3 if strengthening the lineup is required.
By sticking fat with Finch as opener, Australia become a one trick pony with minimal avenues of escape should they find themselves defending 220 instead of 280+.
What needs to happen?
Firstly, the selectors have got themselves in a bind by giving Michael Clarke too much time to prove his fitness. The side is obviously better with him in it, but only if fit.
He hasn’t played an ODI all summer.
The correct and brave call would be to shut the door on him now. A World Cup is not the place to work yourself back into a fit state or form. Make Bailey captain and nominate Clarke’s replacement in the squad.
This settles the squad down and allows a captain to grab hold of his team with confidence.
Harsh perhaps on Clarke, but the right call.
Although Bailey’s current form is poor, he is the right choice as captain and brings a hard head to the middle order.
Secondly, tell Watson the opening spot is his. He is in the best XI. So too are Maxwell (as a spinner who bats), Mitch Marsh (as a batsman who bowls) and James Faulkner (as an all round super star).
Finch needs to be squeezed out to allow the best team to play. His runs are replaceable. The brilliance and flexibility of playing four all rounders who all can hold their place with at least one discipline is not.
The Australians have winning form. But scratch just below the surface and a few issues, if not resolved, have the ability to derail what should be a successful World Cup campaign.
Reproduced with permission at First Post