‘Deplorable’ batting stumbling block and costly bowling problem: Australia’s two glaring issues to fix at World Cup

The tight win over New Zealand virtually sealed Australia’s World Cup semi-final spot but they could be cannon fodder in the knockout stage if they don’t fix two glaring issues. 

Their middle order continues to misfire and their established new-ball trio of Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood and Pat Cummins are being bashed around in the power play. 

Travis Head’s stunning century in his return from a broken hand at the top of the order was a major mid-tournament for the Aussies but despite his century propelling them to a mammoth total of 388 against the Black Caps at Dharamsala, they were lucky in the end to get away with the five-run victory. 

His comeback resulted in Australia doing away with a second all-rounder and relying on Glenn Maxwell as the fifth bowler with Mitchell Marsh chipping in with two overs.

Head, who will also be a bowling option with his off-spinners for the rest of the Cup, showed with his blistering 109 off 67 that he and David Warner are the right options as the opening partnership as they piled on 175 inside 20 overs. 

Travis Head celebrates after reaching his century. (Photo by Darrian Traynor-ICC/ICC via Getty Images)

But this has caused Marsh, Steve Smith and Marnus Labuschagne to now be batting one slot lower than is their preferred and most importantly, most impactful spot. 

Three-time World Cup winner Ricky Ponting described the Australian middle order’s effort as “deplorable” as they failed to convert the golden start the openers gave them.

Smith, Labuschagne and Marsh each got off to starts but failed to launch into sustained big hitting and if not for some lusty hitting at the end from Maxwell, Josh Inglis and Cummins, they would have fallen short of the inflated par on the batting friendly pitch surrounded by small boundaries. 

Despite registering their fourth straight win to draw level with their third-placed Kiwi cousins with a 4-2 record, the flailing and failing middle order has been a worrying trend. 

Australia lost 9-108 after Warner and Marsh pummelled Pakistan with a double-century opening stand in Bengaluru and 4-56 during the middle stages of their Dutch demolition in Delhi. 

Marsh was noticeably unsure of his role while batting at first drop against New Zealand. His blazing knock of 121 off 108 against Pakistan highlighted how destructive he can be in the ODI arena at opener but his supposed success at No.3 is overstated.

The 32-year-old West Australian averages just 23.3 from the 13 times he’s batted after the first wicket has fallen with a solitary half-century.

If he’s not going to open, he’s better off being used as a power-hitting finisher alongside Maxwell and Inglis, coming in after Smith and Labuschagne have kept the score ticking over through the middle overs. 

When Warner bows out of 50-over cricket after this event, Marsh should be returned to opener alongside Head and their complementary styles ensure they have the potential to be a potent long-term duo. 

As for the bowling, the belligerent adherence to starting with Starc, Hazlewood and Cummins is putting Australia on the back foot from the get-go when they’re in the field. 

They went for 55 wicketless runs after just six overs in Dharamsala before Maxwell’s change of pace led to an over of five singles, prompting Devon Conway the following over to play a rash shot to get out to Hazlewood.

Despite Will Young departing a short time later, the Australian attack was still too predictable for the Kiwi batters and they maintained a run rate of seven through the first 22 overs. 

(Photo by Robert Cianflone/Getty Images)

Pakistan (134 runs in 21.1 overs), Sri Lanka (125 in 21.4) and South Africa (108 after 19.4) have each cantered to century-plus opening stands against the Aussie seamers. 

Starc has been too wayward while Hazlewood and Cummins are very similar in that they rely on hitting the deck hard rather than changes of pace and variations, particularly with the newer ball. 

It’s not a favourable World Cup for bowlers and economy rates but it should be of great concern to Australian coach Andrew McDonald and his bowling expert Dan Vettori that Glenn Maxwell is their only bowler going at less than five per over at 4.82.

Maxwell is eighth among bowlers who have sent down at least 10 overs at the World Cup with Hazlewood 20th at 5.36 with Adam Zampa (43rd at 6.22), Starc (45th at 6.31) and Cummins (47th at 6.34) only just scraping into the top 50.

Glenn Maxwell. (Photo by Darrian Traynor-ICC/ICC via Getty Images)

Marsh is capable of getting the new ball to swing so perhaps he could be worth a try early on or for Maxwell to open or be brought on first change as soon as Starc or Hazlewood start getting plundered.

Winning is ultimately what matters and the Aussies are now in a position to finish third, potentially in the top two if India and South Africa slip up, after losing to those two sides to start the tournament in sluggish fashion. 

But in the likely event that they will come up against the host nation and/or the Proteas at the business end of the World Cup, the Australians can’t afford to be leaking runs with the new ball or losing momentum with the bat through the middle overs. 

Australia have shown themselves to be pretty set in their ways in all three formats in recent years in the belief that their Plan A is the best option but in tournament play at an event like the World Cup, teams that fail to adapt are rarely the ones who end up lifting the trophy.

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