Australia batting 'extremely poor', concedes Clarke
Michael Clarke has conceded that Australia have focused too much on power hitting and not enough on negotiating the swinging ball during their preparation for this World Cup. Australia's deficiencies against swing have been apparent for several years in all forms of the game, and again they were ill-equipped to deal with the hooping white ball during their loss to New Zealand.
Trent Boult and Tim Southee both got the ball to move at Eden Park and what Australia expected to be a high-scoring contest on one of cricket's smallest grounds became one of the lowest-scoring battles of this tournament. Mitchell Starc also gained significant swing and nearly bowled Australia to victory, but it could not disguise Australia's batting woes.
During the week leading up to this game, Australia spent considerable time smashing sixes down the ground of throwdowns on the similarly small Eden Park outer oval. But when Aaron Finch tried the same against Southee in the match, he succeeded once and then had his stumps rattled when he tried the same next ball.
It was the start of what Clarke described as a "horrendous" batting display as Australia were dismissed for 151 in the 33rd over, and only reached that thanks to a 45-run last-wicket stand between Brad Haddin and Pat Cummins. It looked for a while like they would suffer the ignominy of being bowled out by only three bowlers, although in the end New Zealand did use five.
"I think sometimes in T20 cricket and one-day cricket you can get caught up working on the power side of your game," Clarke said. "I don't think we have had too many training sessions where we have worked on the start of our game and actually defending the brand new ball or the swinging ball and that's an area we can focus on.
"You face conditions like that all around the world, not just here in New Zealand. I think you will see the ball swing at the WACA in our next game and we have experienced it plenty of times in Brisbane, even the MCG and the SCG these days. The ball is going to swing and we have some work to do with the bat, that's for sure."
Australia have had nothing but net sessions and centre-wicket practice over the past fortnight due to their wash-out against Bangladesh at the Gabba. But Clarke said their lack of game time was no excuse for a batting performance that became their worst completed World Cup innings since the 1983 tournament.
"I think it was more shot selection and probably being in a bit of a rush as well, thinking we probably had to score a lot more runs than we did," Clarke said. "That type of wicket with the ball swinging, you've got to give yourself more opportunity at the start of the innings and try and catch up later at the end."
Clarke saw four of the dismissals from the other end of the pitch as he looked for a while like he might steady the innings. However, he then became one of Boult's five victims when he drove on the up to a specially placed short cover, which Clarke admitted was a prime example of the poor shot selection that defined Australia's innings.
"We were extremely poor, there is no doubt about that," he said. "I think credit need to go to the New Zealand bowlers, they bowled really well, swung the ball nicely and bowled good areas, but our shot selection was very poor and I think our defence more than anything else was an area that was a lot poorer than we would have liked."
Australia got themselves back into the game through Starc's second six-wicket haul in ODIs this year; Australia's late surge and the one-wicket margin made the match one of the classic trans-Tasman contests. Clarke said he had impressed upon his men at the change of innings that their total was defendable, and he had nothing but praise for the work of Starc.
"The faith was there, we just had to execute," Clarke said. " I think we did, even to get Brendon [McCullum] out for 50 the way he is playing at the moment, we changed our plans in the middle of his innings and found a way to get him out. But Mitchell Starc was the stand-out today for me. That individual performance is as good as you will see in any form of the game, good pace good swing and most importantly very good execution."
Brydon Coverdale is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @brydoncoverdale