Australia: The quest for the elusive cup continues

The Australian players will look to draw from their experience in the Indian Premier League.

Steve Smith has to lead Australia from the front. Having played in the Indian Premier League since 2012, the Australian skipper knows a trick or two on winning matches in Indian conditions.   -  Getty Images

Australians are trained to play a brand of cricket that only takes the game forward across formats. They have been the most entertaining cricketers in the world for a long time after West Indies had lost the tag of ‘Kings of Cricket’. The players, who have been lucky to be capped with the baggy green, have played their roles with great pride and this remarkable attitude has seen Australia win nearly 74 per cent of its ICC World Cup (50 overs) matches since 1975. Australia had to wait for 12 years though to win its first ICC World Cup — in Calcutta in 1987 — but thereafter, it won the title in 1999 (England), 2003 (South Africa), 2007 (West Indies) and 2015 at home.

In these circumstances, cricket fans believed that Australia had the means to excel even in the ICC World Twenty20, which was hurriedly imposed upon international cricket in 2007. Somehow, the best Test- and ODI-playing nation has not shown the enterprise or knack to win the World Twenty20, a contest that is always full of bluster and bombast.

Australia advanced to the title round in 2010 in the West Indies but was outclassed by the English batsmen, Craig Kieswetter and Kevin Pietersen, at Bridgetown, Barbados.

Australia, led by the most creative Andrew Gilchrist, lost to India in the semi-finals of the inaugural tournament at Kingsmead, Durban. Australia made it to the semi-finals in 2012 (Sri Lanka) too, but lost to West Indies, the eventual champion.

Australia has just not found the right balance and strength to go all the way in the World T20 event. Australia, ranked No. 8 in the ICC T20 list, below Sri Lanka and above Afghanistan, has not won a match since November 9, 2014 when it beat South Africa at Homebush (Sydney). In the only T20 match it played against England in Cardiff on August 31, 2015, Australia lost by five runs. Thereafter, Australia played four T20 games (as on March 4, 2016) and lost all of them — three against India (in Adelaide, Melbourne and Sydney) and one against South Africa (Kingsmead).

Australia skipper Steve Smith has played 46 matches in the Indian Premier League since 2012 and he knows a trick or two on winning matches in Indian conditions. Soon after being named captain for the World T20 (replacing Aaron Finch), Smith was matter of fact: “It would be a massive challenge. It’s a fast-paced game, you have to really think on your feet and be ahead of the game. The ICC World Twenty20 is going to be a big challenge for us. It is one of the trophies that has eluded this side. We are going to be playing in different conditions where we haven’t had a lot of success. It’s going to be a hard tour, but I’m really looking forward to it.”

Australia’s batting line-up will have Shane Watson, Finch, David Warner, Smith, Glen Maxwell, James Faulkner, Mitchell Marsh and Usman Khawaja, and more than half of them have the skills to win a match on their own. Its bowling line-up, diminished by the retirement of Mitchell Johnson and the absence of injured Mitchell Starc, includes the most improved Josh Hazlewood, Nathan Coulter-Nile, Mitchell Marsh, James Faulkner, John Hastings and Andrew Tye. The two spinners in side are leg-spinner Adam Zampa, who made his debut against South Africa at Kingsmead on March 4, and left-arm spinner Ashton Agar, who is yet to play a Twenty20.

Peter Nevill has won a place ahead of the out of form Matthew Wade. The Chairman of selectors, Rod Marsh, said, “We feel our batting depth in the squad is sufficient enough that we can have a specialist wicketkeeper in the squad. We want Australia’s best wicketkeeper playing in this tournament and we consider Peter Nevill to be the best in the country right now. Overall, we believe the squad we have selected is well balanced, has the experience and talent required to be successful in India and help us win the World T20 title for the first time. We were able to look at a number of players during the Big Bash League and the recent T20 international series against India, and have selected the best short-form players available for the conditions we will encounter.”

The Australian players will look to draw from their experience in the IPL, and on this count coach Darren Lehmann will play a key role. Warner has played 83 IPL matches, Watson 78, Smith 46, Faulkner 45, Finch 39, Maxwell 32 and Mitchell March 17. Seamer Nathan Coulter-Nile has played 14. They all know what travelling in India is like, and the weather and pitch conditions too.

In 1987, India turned out to be lucky for Australia. It can turn out to be so in 2016 as well!

The team:

Steven Smith (captain), Aaron Finch, David Warner, Shane Watson, Glenn Maxwell, Mitchell Marsh, James Faulkner, Usman Khawaja, John Hastings, Peter Nevill, Adam Zampa, Josh Hazlewood, Nathan Coulter-Nile, Ashton Agar, Andrew Tye.

Players with punch:

David Warner: Throws caution to the winds and is ready to bang the ball from the word go; is Australia’s leading batsman with 1486 runs (11 half-centuries) in 55 matches.

Shane Watson: A very steadying influence, plays smart cricket and according to the merit of the ball. He is Australia’s second highest run-getter with 1315 (one century, 10 half-centuries) in 52 matches.

Glenn Maxwell: A game-changer who has the skill to lift the ball into the stands.

James Faulkner: Another game-changer with the bat in the lower-order.