ICC World Cup: What is bothering Australia, five-time champions?

The yellow shirts, who find themselves in ninth spot on the 10-team table, need to regroup quickly

Australian cricketer Pat Cummins (right) (photo: @patcummins30/X)
Australian cricketer Pat Cummins (right) (photo: @patcummins30/X)

Gautam Bhattacharyya

A look at the ICC World Cup points table after the first week shows an anomaly.

It finds mighty Australia lying in ninth position, with two losses from as many matches!

This is only the second time that the five-time world champions have lost their first two matches since 1992, and what must be worrying for their fans is that this is not the Aussies they have known. 

Well, it’s still early days, and given the current format—where the top four will go through to the semi-finals after playing nine matches each—there is still plenty of cricket to be played.

However, looking back, while their first defeat against India was at least a well-fought one (and it could have been a different story had Mitchell Marsh held on to the easy chance from Virat Kohli!), it was a lacklustre set of Aussies who turned up against South Africa at the Ekana Stadium in Lucknow. 

Nothing went right for the yellow shirts, it seems, starting from Pat Cummins’ decision to send South Africa in after winning the toss. It looked like a defensive decision, with the thought of the dew factor helping the chasing team possibly playing in the Australian captain's mind — but in reality, the Proteas took full advantage of a perfect batting track to rake up a 300-plus total and put the Aussies under pressure. 

The statisticians will be hard pressed to recall when Australia last let go five catches in such a crucial match as this.

They will also have to really dig for when each of the Cummins, Josh Hazzlewood and Mitchell Starc trio conceded over 50 runs in a match. The way Quinton de Kock, a back-to-back centurion, pummelled Hazzlewood for two sixes in an over was quite an unusual sight — sending clear signals to the team management that they need a course correction soon if they are to stay afloat in these conditions. 

The batters, despite not being short on experience in Indian conditions, thanks to the IPL, look overtly reliant on Steve Smith to anchor the innings. It looked curtains for them when Australia slid to 70 for 6. But for a rearguard effort for a 69-run partnership between Starc and Marnus Labuschagne, which took their total to 177, Australia could well have been languishing at the bottom of the table. 

The ifs and buts in the selection of the final 15 has already begun.

While it’s a given that the squad should have the best spinning options in these conditions, the team management roped in Labuschagne in place of an injured spinning all-rounder Ashton Agar. This leaves the squad with only one specialist spinner in Adam Zampa, with Glenn Maxwell providing the support — but one is looking at bowling a full quota of 10 overs here, more like just four.      

Meanwhile, Nathan Lyon — one of the world’s best off-spinners, who has been injured since the second Ashes Test — went public, saying he was game to play the World Cup. However, any change is now possible only if there are injuries, and it has to be ratified by the ICC technical committee.  

The Sri Lanka match is coming up next, in three days’ time, on Monday, 16 October. Former skipper Michael Clarke has a word of caution.

‘’Sri Lanka are going to be going to be tough in those conditions. We haven’t played Pakistan yet. We’ve got some really tough cricket ahead of us, and if we play like this, then we are not qualifying,’’ Clarke, the 2015 World Cup-winning captain, told Sky Sports Radio’s Big Sports Breakfast.   

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