By Josh Farrell
Glenn Maxwell and Alex Carey pose with the Royal London One Day Series Trophy, after combining for 214 runs to help Australia over the line during the Third ODI against England in Manchester. Photo: Getty Images
After Australia’s disastrous second One-Day International (ODI) against England, many commentators came out blasting the team, saying that it simply wasn’t good enough. With some describing the collapse in the second ODI as ‘embarrassing’, and even labelling Australia as ‘shell shocked’. All this criticism of Australia’s middle order has simply dissipated after the incredible run chase on Wednesday night, in which Alex Carey and Glenn Maxwell scored magnificent centuries to help power Australia to victory.
Australian cricket fans have been lucky over the past 20 years, they've always had a team that has been almost unbeatable, and they sometimes forget that a normal team has those days where it simply does not come together. Stage four lockdown has given me the opportunity to go back through and re-watch some classic Cricket World Cup matches of the past. I have concluded that this Australian team is in a strong place.
Whilst David Warner had a tour to forget, there is no doubt that he is one of the greatest openers in the world on his day. Aaron Finch has been in scintillating form since taking on the captaincy, averaging 47 runs per innings over the past year. The emergence of Marnus Labuschagne makes the top order so much stronger, and gives the openers more freedom to play their natural game. Steve Smith and Labuschagne provide a solid option following the openers, and act as a wall to stop any potential collapses we may see through the middle order. Smith and Labuschagne average both 43 and 42 respectively in ODI cricket, whilst Warner and Finch average 44 and 40.
Aaron Finch and Marnus Labuschagne during the Third ODI at Old Trafford, Manchester. Photo: Getty Images
Australia’s middle order is where much of the criticism has come from, but you must remember that we ask the middle order to do so much. They are tasked with scoring quick back-end runs after only facing a few balls, we ask them to stop a steady stream of wickets, and we also ask them to noodle the ball around before they then accelerate. Whilst it is an incredibly important part of the team, it is one of the most challenging areas of the batting line-up.
Australia has three areas they need to fill. The wicketkeeper is currently under the firm control of Alex Carey. Carey plays what I like to call the Michael Bevan role. He has to be the one to guide Australia to victory, so that leaves Australia with two more areas that need filling. Glenn Maxwell provides the clear option for the selectors with his off spin, and last night showed his ability to stem the flow of wickets, as well as the obvious ability he has, to attack when needed. Australia now needs to decide on the final position of the batting order, current options are Mitchell Marsh and Marcus Stoinis.
Stoinis had a summer to remember, but the question remains whether he can achieve what he achieved in the middle order, when he is clearly stronger at the top of the order. Marsh appears to be the better option for the middle order, as he is far better at attacking early in his innings. However, he is nowhere near the same level of form as Stoinis in white ball cricket, the decision for the final place in the team is one full of challenges, and hopefully either player can put their stamp on the role over the summer.
Is Australia's ODI team stronger with Josh Hazlewood or Pat Cummins? Or both? Photo: AAP
Australia has issues with its bowlers, Mitchell Starc and Adam Zampa clearly pick themselves, but Josh Hazlewood and Pat Cummins throw up unique question marks. Cummins is the number one bowler in the world, but had a tour to forget in England, and Hazlewood was almost unstoppable in the series. Both bowlers struggle to support Starc bowling at the death.
Therefore, the selectors have to make the difficult decision to drop either Hazlewood or Cummins to bring in someone who bowls more consistently in the big moments, someone like a Sean Abbott or a Kane Richardson. Hazlewood has a slightly better one-day average, but Cummins as many can agree is nearly impossible to leave out of a side, it all depends on who you pick as the third seamer. Hazlewood is much stronger when it comes to opening the bowling, but Cummins can extract more from an old ball in the middle overs.
Picking someone like Kane Richardson lends itself to leaving Hazlewood in the side, whilst picking someone like an Abbott gives the team more flexibility to keep someone such as Cummins, who can extract a bit extra through the middle overs.
I do not envy the selectors who have to make this decision, as no matter what happens they will be heavily criticised for keeping either bowler from the side.
Cover Photo: Getty Images