Giant-killing blow to World Cup defence
AUSTRALIA arrives in London on Wednesday for their World Cup defence.
Sam Landsberger was at last week's three practice matches against New Zealand and says the best XI is nearly locked in.
1. AUSTRALIA LOST ITS GIANT SLAYER
Virat Kohli can breathe a sigh of relief. Jhye Richardson's withdrawal last week with a dislocated shoulder is good news for Kohli, and some of the world's best batsmen. In the 22-year-old's six games against India he has removed their captain four times. Richardson has also dismissed openers Shikhar Dhawan and Rohit Sharma, while, in England last year, he dismissed Alex Hales twice plus Jos Buttler, Eoin Morgan and Jonny Bairstow. Richardson is also a jet in the field and Shane Warne says he bowls a perfect length for English conditions. "His energy, raw pace, ability to swing the ball and ability to get really good players out on good wickets is something that will be missed," captain Aaron Finch said. "We saw real X-factor with the ball." It's a big loss.
2. NINE PLACES SORTED. THE BOWLING SPOT IS DOWN TO…
Death bowler Kane Richardson replaced namesake Jhye in the squad, but the vacant place in the XI will predominantly be filled by Jason Behrendorff or Nathan Coulter-Nile. Similar to Mitchell Starc, left-armer Behrendorff can swing the new ball, take early wickets and is predictable and reliable. In fact, Behrendorff's 3/56 (14 overs) against New Zealand last week mirrored the returning Starc's 3/52 (13). Coulter-Nile has a splash of X-Factor in his power hitting, evidenced by three sixes in last Monday's knock of 34 (36) after Australia's middle order failed, and athleticism in the field. Overhead conditions will have a big say on which way Australia leans. Spinner Nathan Lyon is also eyeing this spot.
3. KHAWAJA AHEAD OF MARSH FOR THE BATTING SPOT
Coach Justin Langer "loves" that he has century-making options at the top, but five doesn't go into four. With David Warner (14 ODI tons), Aaron Finch (13), Steve Smith (eight) locks, that leaves Usman Khawaja (10) and Shaun Marsh (seven) fighting for one place. Marsh made two of his centuries in England last year but Khawaja is the world's leading run-scorer in 2019 (769 runs at 59.2) and posted a half-century against New Zealand last week, when Marsh top-scored with 32. Khawaja should get first crack, most likely at No.3.
4. STARC AND CUMMINS NEED SUPPORT
Finch said "all the trends and stats suggest the teams that have taken the most wickets in the middle overs have been successful". That's why attacking spinner Adam Zampa is ahead of Lyon and why Australia is considering shorter opening spells for Starc and Cummins, saving another burst for the middle. Against New Zealand last week Cummins jagged 7/68 (15 overs) while Starc's first 23 balls on return from injury produced 2/7, both wickets smashing the stumps. Meanwhile Kane Richardson (0/81 off 17 overs) went wicket-less while Behrendorff and Coulter-Nile (3/86 off 17.1) looked far less menacing. "(Middle-over wickets) is something we want to try and nail," Finch said. "If someone gets off to a flyer you have to keep rolling out your big guns and making sure you're still looking to take wickets in the power-play." The third quick must do some damage.
5. FOR PETE'S SAKE, STEVE THE RIGHT CALL
Pete Handscomb and Steve Smith were deemed too similar to both be picked and Smith's 202 runs last week showed selectors made the right call. Smith was dismissed just once in three games and three of his four sixes on Wednesday were heaved over mid-off. While Smith's troublesome elbow - he is batting with plenty of tape and still can't throw overarm - is a concern, his experience and ability to hit boundaries anywhere will be vital. Handscomb has played all 13 ODIs this year, boasts safe hands in the field, is adept at facing spin and was brutally unlucky to miss, but the sheer fear factor of bowling to Smith, who can score off any ball, can't be underestimated.
6. NO SAFETY NET FOR STOINIS
Marcus Stoinis is Australia's reigning ODI player of the year but that form started to slide during the recent winning run in India and the UAE. But with no other squad member sharing his skillset - WA teammate Mitch Marsh has fallen away - Australia has gone all-in on Stoinis. His past three ODI scores of 10, 2 and 4 against Pakistan were followed by knocks of 15 and 15 against New Zealand last week, although the top order's dominance against Pakistan meant he wasn't required to do much. Stoinis thrives on challenges and the heightened intensity of the World Cup, coupled with it serving as his only chance to audition for the Ashes, should suit him.
7. MAXI CAN BE THE MAN
Glenn Maxwell gave up more than a million dollars by skipping the IPL to gain invaluable experience playing on England pitches in County Cricket last month, and the reflex smile that stretches across his face when discussing the 2015 World Cup victory shows how much this means to him. Scores of 52 (44) and 70 (48) - built on a mix of convention and invention - last week were a statement he is ready to explode. The Smith-Maxwell partnerships unsettled New Zealand with bowlers unable to set fields restricting their creative hitting. If Australia is 0/120 after 20 overs, Maxwell is every chance to come in at No.3, and that would have fans all over the world tuning in.
WORLD CUP OPENER
Australia v Afghanistan, June 1 in Bristol
PREDICTED XI: Aaron Finch, David Warner, Usman Khawaja, Steve Smith, Marcus Stoinis, Glenn Maxwell, Alex Carey, Pat Cummins, Mitchell Starc, Jason Behrendorff, Adam Zampa
THE REST: Nathan Lyon, Nathan Coulter-Nile, Shaun Marsh, Kane Richardson