Australia’s hometown exit: a campaign that started badly and never got going

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“Bugger…”, tweeted Glenn Maxwell, moments after England had edged to a two-wicket victory over Sri Lanka. But Australia’s fate was already out of their hands before that match, though they had been teased that they could yet get a reprieve to their stuttering title defence. In the end, however, their home World Cup ended in a rather fittingly-anonymous way, a campaign that started with a huge defeat and never really felt like it got going.
It will likely mark the end of an era for Australia’s T20I side, which had come together at the last moment to claim the title for the first time a year ago in the UAE. Aaron Finch missed the final group game against Afghanistan, and his international career now appears over following his ODI retirement earlier this summer.
With Australia’s next T20Is not until August 2023, by when there will be less than a year until the next World Cup in the West Indies and the USA, along with Finch, it is also difficult to see Matthew Wade playing again, while the selectors have other decisions to make over the future.

Though this tournament is brutal in its nature – Australia only lost one match – there are also questions that need to be asked about why things fell so flat for them.

Injury concerns
Australia had to juggle their side in the lead-up to the tournament due to Mitchell Marsh and Marcus Stoinis having injuries which impacted their bowling, while Kane Richardson and Ashton Agar also had niggles. Given the balance of the side, it were the allrounders who were critical, and while injuries often can’t be helped, it did create a sense of uncertainty.

Eventually, all four players made the cut – the one late change was forced when Josh Inglis injured his hand playing golf – and Stoinis had a good tournament with the bat, striking at 161.53, while Marsh showed promising moments without quite recapturing his 2021 form. However, with the ball, Stoinis had an economy of 9.66 while Marsh bowled only one over.

Too much Moneyball?
Did Australia overthink? Two moments – one in play and another selection-based – suggested it might have been the case. Maxwell, cited as a key part of the bowling attack, was not used in the opening game against New Zealand even when they made a flying start in the powerplay. It was seen as an unfavourable match-up with Devon Conway; and while it is true that Conway’s numbers against offspin are very good, against Sri Lanka he was bowled by Dhananjaya de Silva.

If Australia rated Maxwell’s bowling so highly, he should surely have had at least one over. Then, against Afghanistan, came a selection call that stunned many when Mitchell Starc was dropped. Australia had taken the curious approach of changing Starc’s role by demoting him from using the new ball – something which received a lukewarm response from the quick – while he was also out of the side for a must-win game.

Admittedly, after a stunning first over against Ireland when Starc’s swing claimed two wickets, he had conceded 43 from three overs to continue a decline in form in T20s, but his replacement Richardson had barely played any cricket in the build-up. It is hard to believe Afghanistan would not have preferred facing Richardson over Starc.

Bad time for a bad run
There can really be no questioning David Warner‘s T20 record, and this tournament is a small sample size of four games, but it added to Australia’s problems that he had a relatively lean time of it. With the questions around Finch, Warner needed to have a return akin to what he produced in the UAE.

Instead, he made 5, 11 and 3 before finishing with 25 off 18 balls against Afghanistan, an innings which ended when he dragged on an attempted switch hit. At no point in the tournament did it ever feel like Australia had a solid, positive base at the top of the order. They were always playing catch up.

Lack of ruthlessness
The massive defeat against New Zealand left a big problem – they could have managed the net run rate better to narrow the margin – but Australia missed a clear chance to bridge the gap after that. There is an argument to suggest they could have chased the target against Sri Lanka even quicker if not for Finch’s stalled innings, but the big opportunity was having Ireland at 25 for 5 at the Gabba yet not being able to skittle them.

Lorcan Tucker played a terrific innings but was dropped on 35 by Pat Cummins. The situation against Afghanistan was harder, especially after they lost the toss and had to bat first, but the fact they ended up only narrowly securing the win summed up their tournament. In a competition of fine margins, Australia missed their moments.
Show of faith
It is odd to have such a short turnaround between World Cups – an impact of the schedule changes due to the pandemic – and there was nothing wrong with the belief that the players who won last year deserved the chance to go again on home soil. The only initial change was the expected inclusion of Tim David ahead of Mitchell Swepson, although Cameron Green then found a spot as well.
However, there was the risk that if things went wrong – which they did – it would look like a bridge too far for some of them, and perhaps more recent T20 form had not been considered enough. While much of the talk was around Green, Nathan Ellis was arguably the most relevant debate given his year.

Finch and Wade are the two obvious names who now appear to be at the end of their careers, but their could well be significant changes for the 2024 event.

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