Coach Law wants group-toppers Australia to improve
Australia have topped Group A at the Under-19 World Cup emphatically. They beat England by six wickets and 15 overs to spare, Nepal by 212 runs, and Ireland by six wickets and 57 balls left. Yet, their coach Stuart Law recognises there are disciplines his team needs to improve on during Sunday's quarterfinal against Bangladesh, and says having won so comprehensively despite not being at their best highlighted the depth of talent within the squad.
"We have got through, won three out of three, but I still feel there are some areas for improvement, which is pretty good if you're winning games and still not playing your best cricket," Law said. "It doesn't make you very complacent."
Australia's bowlers have conceded 25 wides in three games, only one batsman has scored a hundred and some have been getting out in the same fashion, and they haven't run out a batsman yet. These were the areas Law felt needed attention.
"There have been some great areas for us, but there are just those little one per-centers," Law said. "We bowled a lot of wides with the new ball. Batsmen have got to learn that once you get out a certain way, you shouldn't be getting out like that time and time again. We haven't got many run outs in this competition, we're a better fielding side than what we're showing. They may not mean much in the whole scheme of things but in big games coming up, if we can get one run out, take a great catch, don't bowl five wides, it makes it easier to win the game."
While Australia's captain William Bosisto said he was "rapt" to have won all three games so far, he too wasn't thrilled with the performance in the last group game against Ireland. "I suppose, with attacking cricket, you can sometimes come unstuck, it's not going to come off all the time," Bosisto said. "It's a learning experience, but I think if we try and be as positive as we can and learn from our mistakes that's the only way to improve."
What Australia have done during the group stages is manage to give all 15 players in their squad a game, which means no one will have to take the field during the knock-out without match practice. Even the two replacement players they called into the squad because of injuries, seam bowler Alex Gregory and legspinner Shane Cassel, have had success. "Coming into the group stage, we wanted to win all three games but we also wanted to get as many players into form as possible and I think we've achieved that so far," Bosisto said.
Australia have two significant advantages going into the quarterfinal against Bangladesh in Townsville. They've played at Endeavour Park, in this tournament and during a quadrangular series earlier this year, and know what to expect from the conditions. Bangladesh have been based in Brisbane and will have to adjust to their new environment on the go. Australia have not played this Under-19 Bangladesh side before, but they have Law, who was Bangladesh coach until recently and knows some of their key players. Bangladesh don't have similar insights.
"I've spoken to the players a little bit about it [the Bangladesh team]," Law said. "You don't try and give them too much, if you give them too much information you can lead to paralysing them mentally and you don't want to do that. You just want them to go out and play good, carefree cricket with discipline."
What Law wants, however, is for the batsmen who get set to play substantial innings when they get the opportunity to. Cameron Bancroft showed that appetite against Nepal, when he scored 125, but some others have failed to score a century or see the chase home because of an error of judgment rather than being dismissed by a good ball.
"It's good to have a sounding board like Greg Chappell in the dressing room. We look at each other and say, 'These guys don't like scoring hundreds.' We tell these players that 20s aren't going to be enough to put your name up in lights. If you're 50 not out at the end of an innings, great ... but if you get the opportunity, you've got to go big. If you're getting 40 and 50 all the time, it's okay, but it's not going to get you far."
Having said that, Law was pleased with the balance in Australia's line-up. Bancroft and Bosisto are the steady batsmen who have shown the temperament to battle through tough periods, while Jimmy Peirson, Kurtis Patterson and Travis Head have been more aggressive during the group games. "We've looked at different combinations, we've looked at who's got the power game, who can constantly hit gaps," Law said. "It is a good balance, it's something Greg and I, we're pretty conscious of keeping that balance going through the next three games. Don't have too many changes now, everyone knows their role."
Australia will be expected to get past Bangladesh, and they'll want to do so in a manner that shows improvement from their already impressive performances during this tournament.
George Binoy is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo