Entering the inaugural ODI league that will determine World Cup qualification, Australia have a few areas of uncertainty in terms of the make-up of their side. None, though, are as pressing as a broader blind spot that looms as a major obstacle to actually qualifying for the next global event in India in 2023.
In the three-match series format now inked in as the bread and butter of the 50-over game, Australia’s record over the past five years is little short of abominable. They have lost each of their past four one-day series when played over three matches, and five out of six they have played since winning the 2015 World Cup.
Undoubtedly, the Australian teams led by Aaron Finch have struggled to settle down after Test-match series in particular, and so have fared rather better in longer assignments. In last year’s visit to India, for example, they came back from 2-0 down to prevail 3-2 over five matches. The World Cup itself told a similar story, as the round robin format ensured they could settle into a strong rhythm.
For Finch and the coach Justin Langer, therefore, the challenge is to get the ODI unit up and firing more rapidly, to force the issue and win three-match series. In this case at least, they’ve had the chance to shake off some of the cobwebs of a coronavirus-wrecked winter, thanks to their three-match T20I series, played by the same squad That’s just as well, because Eoin Morgan’s team remains the global benchmark, in a format where World Cup qualification now has genuine challenges for established nations.
“It’s a tough one, because generally for a one-day tour you get on the ground with not a huge amount of time leading up to the series, so it’s important that you start really well,” Finch said. “Especially [with] two games in three days, you can’t afford to have two bad days, otherwise the series is over. So I think having that ability to get out of the gates really quick and put a stamp on the series is really important and a lot of that lies with your senior players, no doubt, and making sure everyone’s in as good a space mentally as they can be.”
“We’re still searching for the best formula for us. We know that any time you play England you can’t play at 90%, you have to be at 100% to beat them and we’re excited for that challenge.”
Aaron FInch on Australia’s need for a fast start
In terms of that mental space, Finch conceded that the challenge of playing the series within a bio-secure was one that needed constant monitoring. “Living in the hubs there’s going to be times when guys’ emotions are up and down, no doubt,” he said. “When you can’t have family here you’re celebrating kids’ birthdays and family things like that through Zoom calls and Facetime.
“I think it’s important that we all look after each other in these times as well. As long as there’s improvement, as long as guys are taking their opportunities when they arise, that’ll put us in great positions to win one-day tournaments, one-day series, and be really successful over the next few years.”
Most of Australia’s recent series have, of course, been against some of the world’s more formidable sides, whether that be India and South Africa, who both beat Finch’s men in World Cup games last year, or New Zealand, who would surely have won the trophy but for the accidental intervention of Ben Stokes’ bat in the final. That sort of competition has given the Australian selectors a good deal of information, while the emergence of Marnus Labuschagne and the maturing of Mitchell Marsh have added to their options.
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“We’re still searching for our best formula and our best 11 players day in, day out in the one-day format,” Finch said. “I don’t think there’s any secret to that. There’s been great opportunity that we probably haven’t nailed consistently in this format. We’ve played some really good cricket in patches and some indifferent cricket in other patches. I think it’s important that we start to finalise our best XI and make sure of our best 15 players going forward.
“With extended squads travelling in the near future, it’s going to be important that we start to get our processes right in one-day cricket,” he added. “Although we finished 2-1 down in the T20 series, I thought our process and structure was really sound, we just mis-executed in a couple of positions. We’re still searching for the best formula for us. We know that any time you play England you can’t play at 90%, you have to be at 100% to beat them and we’re excited for that challenge.”
Marsh was missing from the 2019 World Cup squad after playing a small role in the 2015 win, but his ODI record for Australia is by far his best at international level across the formats. “He averages 35 with the bat and I think 36 or 37 with the ball,” Finch said, “so that’s a really good package and we’ve probably been guilty of shuffling him around to try to fit some other pieces in there at certain points, so he’s someone who we’ve got a lot of confidence in. Each time he’s had his opportunity, he’s played really well for us.
“I know in that middle-order position, it’s never easy to have a really high output of runs or, especially if you’re that fourth or fifth bowler, to have a huge impact. He’s got a great opportunity over the next couple of years to cement that spot and we’ve got huge confidence in him. He’s someone who has got a calm head under pressure. The way he’s matured, the parts of his game that he’s identified to improve, I think he’s made some great changes in that area.
“I’ve got no doubt that, in the near future, probably the most consistent Mitch Marsh will be on show, but as we know in the two shorter formats, when you’re looking to play in that middle order, there’s times when you have to be high risk and really move the game forward, and others when you need to hold a little bit and take the game deeper. I think having that experience over the last 40 games or so that Mitch has played will give him that flexibility to understand his game and game situations.”
Undoubtedly, Australia must learn to be quicker to switch on to a higher level of understanding and awareness in ODI series. A guaranteed place in India in 2023 depends on it.