ICC World Cup: For Australia, the cupboard looks surprisingly bare

As many as seven players in the current Aussie squad were also part of the 2015 trophy-winning team. What happened to the famed Australian assembly line?

Problems beset five-time champions Australia (in picture: Travis Head) (photo: Getty Images)
Problems beset five-time champions Australia (in picture: Travis Head) (photo: Getty Images)

Gautam Bhattacharyya

The woes of five-time world champions Australia have not quite eased despite them finding their first win against Sri Lanka the other day, after losses against India and South Africa. So much so that Babar Azam’s Pakistan may sense a fair chance of turning the tide after a demoralising defeat against India when they meet the Aussies in Bengaluru on Friday 20 October. 

There was some positive news for Pat Cummins’ men as Travis Head, nursing a hand injury at home when the Aussies left for India, is now fit to join the squad. The left-hander, also a part-time off-spinner, will only be available from the next game against The Netherlands but before that, the yellow shirts need to claw up from the precarious seventh position in the table. 

The mid-table almost resembles a IPL-like logjam with as many as four teams, including defending champions England and Australia, on two points after three matches. In this format where each team gets nine matches to make it to the semi-finals, it will be foolhardy to write off Australia, but they are looking a pale shadow of their usual self at the moment. 

‘’We’ve not been up to the standards we like to hold,’’ was the candid confession from Cummins after the first two losses. The problem is that even after three matches here — not to speak of the three warm-up games against the hosts prior to the event — the Aussies have not been able to settle on a template for the playing conditions. The batting has looked hollow with its over reliance on the two anchors, Steve Smith and Marnus Labuschagne, and Head is expected to add some spine albeit at the expense of an allrounder. 

A bowling attack, which looks awesome on paper with the pace trio of Cummins, Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazlewood, has not been able to create the same impact as the past — while there is a distinct lack of variety with them being backed by as many seaming allrounders. The fact that they are so thin on spin options, with only Adam Zampa as frontline spinner, shows the lack of balance. 

Could the selectors have handled their available resources better? Not quite, as the bowlers who could have played the second specialist spinner's role are either injured (Ashton Agar), lack match practice since returning from injury (Nathan Lyon) or lack ODI experience (Tanveer Sangha, Todd Murphy, Matt Kuhnemann, Mitchell Swepson and so forth). 

There was a time when Smith could prove to be a partnership breaker with his leg spin, but with the new fielding rules stipulating that four fielders must be outside the 30-yard circle during the middle overs, it’s unlikely that he will be used. Zampa and Head together will not rate very highly among the spin combinations of all the teams in the fray — and that does not speak highly of the assembly line in Australia. 

Looking at the bigger picture, it’s this assembly line, or lack of it, which must be giving Cricket Australia their biggest headache. Just ponder this: as many as seven key players in the current team — David Warner, Mitchell Marsh, Smith, Glenn Maxwell, Starc, Cummins and Hazlewood — were part of their 2015 champion squad.  

No other team in the current World Cup has as many survivors from 2015, with India and New Zealand coming closest with five. The cupboard looks really bare, despite the sound cricketing structure that Australia has always boasted of.  

A churn could well be on the cards, depending on how the Aussies finish in this edition.

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