Australia head into the Champions Trophy with uncertainty and the dawn of a new beginning in their ODI cricket era. Only two years ago, the team captured their fifth World Cup trophy in front of a record-breaking home crowd by surpassing New Zealand.
However, since then the team’s performance has been quite volatile and even reached certain low points as evident from their 5-0 whitewash defeat in South Africa.
The last 12 months for Australia cricket team has seen ups and downs on a regular basis. In ODIs especially, the team sometimes struck rhythm and defeated their opponents with ease whereas in other instances, their performance made critics question whether this was the world no. 1 side that was playing or not. Australia were whitewashed 3-0 and 5-0 in ODI series at Sri Lanka and South Africa respectively. Although they won the tri-series in West Indies and the ODI series against New Zealand and Pakistan, the team’s performance was not stable at all. Moreover, they lost the Chappell-Hadlee trophy to New Zealand afterwards following a 2-0 loss in the ODI series at New Zealand.
Currently the 2nd placed team in ODI rankings, Australia thus head into the Champions trophy with the determination to recapture the trophy and their top spot in the rankings. The Champions Trophy was a mysterious case for Australia in the past as they failed to win it in their first four attempts. But under the leadership of Ricky Ponting, Australia rewrote the history books, winning back to back editions of the tournament in 2006 and 2009. Now they stand as the team with most wins (2) jointly shared with India.
As we look into the squad for Australia, the team is littered with batting talents. Warner and Smith are of course, the two most experienced batsmen of this side. Warner’s ODI form in the past one year coupled with Smith’s consistency across all formats will be crucial to Australia’s batting. Finch has not been regular with the bat but when needed, he usually steps up to add runs on the board. Australia also have some hard hitters in Glenn Maxwell, Chris Lynn and Moises Henrqiues. In Travis Head and Matthew Wade, they have two batsmen capable of finishing a run chase with ease. Even Mitchell Starc can chip in with the bat when required, as seen from his performance with the bat in India.
In the bowling department, the pace quartet of Starc, Hazlewood, Cummins and Pattinson are ready to fire from all cylinders. The English swing conditions if utilized fully, will transform them into the most ferocious pace quartet and will pave the path for Australia to reduce their opponents to low scoring totals. The all-rounders Maxwell, Stoinis, Henriques and Hastings are quite decent as well.
However, there are glaring weaknesses evident from the composition of this side. Firstly, most of the batsmen in this side are hard hitters and generally ideal for T20 format. Warner, Maxwell, Lynn and Henriques can surely increase the run rate of the side, but when a batting collapse occurs or under fiery attack from good bowlers, they usually do not have the temperament to build the innings or lead the team towards a steep run chase. That puts huge pressure on Steve Smith and the day he fails to perform with the bat, a batting collapse may be underway.
Secondly, Australia will surely miss the services of James Faulkner. Faulkner is an experienced all-rounder in the international stage and has saved Australia countless times during run chases. His performance was also exemplary during the 2015 ICC World Cup final. Despite his unstable form, he should have been given a contract and selected for the Champions Trophy squad. In his absence, it will be the duty of Head and wicketkeeper Wade to assume the role of finishers. While Head in his recent performances has matured as a performer, he still does not have the experience in bigger stages. The same argument applies for Wade who is also inconsistent with the bat.
Thirdly, although the pacers look quite dangerous on paper, there are concerns regarding their performances. Hazlewood has been out of international cricket for a while and Pattinson’s career has been plagued with injuries. The spotlight will be upon Starc to deliver once again on a grand platform. Furthermore, Adam Zampa is not an experienced spinner and his inexperience might hurt his side during the middle overs of a game on a spin pitch.
Lastly, nine players in this squad are playing in their first ever ICC Champions Trophy and were not included in the World Cup team in 2015. Their inexperience can be a cause of Australia’s early exit from the tournament if they succumb to the immense pressure of being in the same group with New Zealand, England and Bangladesh.
Despite these weaknesses, Australia are still one of the favorites heading into the tournament. Australian sides usually rise up to the occasion and as a tournament progresses, they transform into a formidable team. Their resilience comes in handy during the knockout stages of a tournament. And this time, it will not be any different as Steve Smith will look forward to leading his side towards their third Champions Trophy victory and reassert their dominance in the ODI format. Whether that comes to fruition or not will be discovered on June 18 in the final at the Oval. But Steve Smith will be keen on achieving that and his squad, despite the flaws is capable of achieving the goal.
Australia squad for Champions Trophy:
Smith (captain), Warner (vice-captain), Finch, Hazlewood, Starc, Maxwell, Wade, Cummins, Hastings, Stoinis, Henriques, Head, Zampa, Lynn and Pattinson
Australia vs England at Edgbaston on June 2
Australia vs Bangladesh at the Oval on June 5
Australia vs New Zealand at Edgbaston on June 10