0-2. 1-4. 1-4. 0-5. The scoreline of the last four bilateral series involving Australia cuts a sorry figure to those who are used to seeing them dominate in their heydays related to late 1990s and early 2000s. One must go back all the way to Australia Day in 2017 when they last won an ODI, with the series still alive. Australia have lost their last four bilateral series, with the margins stated above and one can add the disappointing rain-marred Champions Trophy campaign to it.
Steady decline in 50-over format
Australia were hit hard with a slew of retirements after their successful World Cup campaign at home in 2015. Michael Clarke, Shane Watson, Brad Haddin and Mitchell Johnson bid adieu and Australia had a tough time finding their replacements to form a new core. While Travis Head, Marcus Stoinis and Nathan Coulter-Nile have shown plenty of early promise, but they have to continue to work hard in order to fill the big boots of the aforementioned players. Matthew Wade, Tim Paine, Peter Handscomb and Alex Carey are playing the musical chairs game to fill the wicketkeeper’s slot which was earlier entrusted with the reliable Haddin.
Their fortunes in the ODI format has plummeted, which is indicated by the fact that they have lost more ODIs than they have won post the last World Cup. Their win-loss ratio of 0.90 in this phase is only ahead of Sri Lanka (0.512) and Windies (0.40) among the ten sides that will feature in the next year’s World Cup. Australia have been at the wrong end in six out of the 13 bilateral series they featured in this period while the four-year period between the 2011 and 2015 World Cups saw them losing just two out of the 16 they featured in. As a result, they find themselves sixth in the ODI team rankings – first time in more than three decades they have found themselves so low in the table.
The slide has been steeper since the last quarter of 2016 when they got whitewashed 0-5 in South Africa – the first time Australia suffered that ignominy in their ODI history. They beat New Zealand and Pakistan at home in rubbers that followed before suffering four straight bilateral series defeats, with the last one of them coming against the old enemy. Their win-loss ratio of 0.41: 1 since 30 September, 2016 is the third worst among all teams, only ahead of Windies (0.39:1) and PNG (0.33:1).
Teams post World Cup 2015
Quantity but not quality
Australia have used 42 players since the last World Cup with only Sri Lanka (49) and Pakistan (44) using more. Of those 42 players, only 16 of them have appeared in at least a quarter of the games Australia have taken part in this three-year period. The pace bowlers have been the biggest casualties with only five of them playing more than 15 games, thanks largely to injuries and prioritising certain formats and tournaments. Mitchell Starc heads the list with 31 ODIs, followed by Josh Hazlewood (28), Pat Cummins (27), James Faulkner (25) and John Hastings (18).
Of the 26 others who didn’t make it to the side as many times, nearly half of them (12) have been specialist pacers. Australia have given ODI caps to nine new pacers since April 2015 but only Scott Boland has appeared in ten-plus games (14). On the other hand, Andrew Tye (twice), Jhye Richardson, Joe Mennie, Marcus Stoinis, Chris Tremain and Daniel Worrall, all feature in the list of most expensive figures for Australia in ODIs, all coming in the last two years. Mennie, Tremain and Worrall along with Joel Paris haven’t featured in another series after their debut.
The legspinner tribe has been one of the biggest trendsetters since the last World Cup. They have found a new vigour in their trade and have nearly became an irreplaceable cog in the scheme of things in the 50-over format. The wrist spinners have emerged largely as a potent wicket taking option while the finger spinners have been reduced to a more containing role. On expected lines, the top two wicket-takers in this period are both wrist spinners – Adil Rashid leads with 104 followed by Rashid Khan’s 100 – well ahead of the third-placed Trent Boult at 82.
The point I was trying to drive home was the variety that spinners bring to the table. Overall, spinners have accounted for 35% of the wickets to fall in the three-year period since the last World Cup. But for Australia at the end of the England debacle, spinners account for only 17.94% of all wickets, which is roughly half of the global average. Australian spinners have taken 80 wickets out of which 42 were by Adam Zampa, who has now been dropped in favour of Ashton Agar and Nathan Lyon, after his indifferent showing in India and against England at home.
Australian spinners have averaged 45.47 in this phase which makes them second worst in terms of the bowling average parameter – only ahead of Windies’ spinners (48.93). They have also been the most expensive (among spinners) going at a rate of 5.72 per over. It shouldn’t therefore surprise anyone that spinners bowl only 22.74% for Australia, which is way behind the global average of 38.35% in this period.
The Australian captains in the recent past have often resorted to the part-time spin of Glenn Maxwell and Travis Head rather than opt for a specialist spinner in the playing XI. While the tactic proved successful in their successful 2015 World Cup campaign, where Maxwell was often used as the fifth bowler, it remains to be seen if the tactic would bear fruit next year. The reason being teams, nowadays, play more attacking cricket in the middle overs when the spinners usually operate. ODI teams, these days, are smarter in picking and choosing which bowlers to attack, which in turn gives captains less flexibility when they don’t play a specialist fifth bowler.
Spinners in ODIs since April 2015
|Team||Mat||Overs||% overs bowled||Wkts||Best||Avg||ER||SR|
While Australian spinners have failed to make an impact, their batsmen have struggled to negotiate the opposition spinners. They collectively average 34.94 against spin which is only better than Bangladesh (34.08), Afghanistan (29.86) and Windies (28.86) among the top sides. The spinners have accounted for 156 Australian wickets which is the second most after 249 wickets against Zimbabwe. They have had a tough time against the likes of Adil Rashid and Moeen Ali, and these two occupy the top two slots in the list of leading wicket-takers against Australia in the last three or so years with 33 and 23 scalps respectively. Just to bring that point into perspective, in the four-year period between the last two World Cups, they had the second best against average against spin (39.93) among top sides after India’s 43.60.
Teams record against spinners in ODIs since April 2015
Top heavy batting line-up
The top order (#1 – #3) has done a pretty decent job for Australia in the period following the World Cup – averaging above 43 and hitting 22 out of the 26 hundreds by the team. David Warner had a splendid 2016 in white-ball cricket, and he alongside Aaron Finch and Steve Smith constitute a powerful top three as we saw during the last world tournament. Shaun Marsh, who replaced Smith at number three, also had a good series in England, scoring 288 runs at 57.60 in five innings with two hundreds.
The Achilles heel for them has been the misfiring middle order which has been neither good enough to capitalise on the big starts nor able to rebuild the innings after initial hiccups. Both instances were evident in the recently-concluded series against England. In the first ODI at The Oval, they slid from 70 for 4 to be bowled out for 214 with three overs to spare, while in the fourth ODI, the visitors could score only 310 after being 225 for one at one point. The middle order (#4 to #7) batsmen have hit only four hundreds in this period, which is well behind the table-topper England, whose middle order has contributed as many as 13 hundreds – scoring at more than a run a ball.
George Bailey has done reasonably well in the middle order despite a middling strike rate (78.27) but hasn’t played an ODI since December 2016. Travis Head has shuttled between the opening slot and middle order, but has done better at the top of the order (Average – 48.40, SR 98.37) than in the middle order (Average – 32.25, SR 87.46). Glenn Maxwell has been largely inconsistent in ODIs, lasting over 50 balls only four times in 30 outings. The all-round duo of Mitchell Marsh and Marcus Stoinis has looked promising but has been short of spending ample time out in the middle.
The last one year tells a dismal story regarding Australia’s fortunes in 50-over cricket. Australia have lost 14 of the last 16 completed ODIs, and for the first time in history, they lost four successive bilateral series involving multiple matches. The way things panned out in England would have hardly surprised anyone, and with the World Cup less than one year away, Australia have more questions than answers ahead of them.
Batting vs Bowling since April 2015
|Team||Mat||Runs||Bat Avg||Wkts||Bowl Avg||Avg Diff|
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