Australia in World Twenty20 October 6, 2012

Australia's limitations confirmed

Well prepared though they were, Australia's quest reflected the thinness in their batting and spin bowling - limitations that will need to be rectified

Jonty Rhodes once said of Shane Warne's flipper that while the bowler's thumb position meant he could often tell it was coming, he still found the ball extremely difficult to play. Australia could not possibly have been better prepared for their tilt at the World Twenty20 in Sri Lanka, but for all the planning and forethought that went into it, their campaign still fell to pieces with alarming haste.

Pakistan dusted off a month-old blue print for beating George Bailey's side in their last Super Eights match, and West Indies improved upon it with startling effectiveness in the semi-final. All through a strong run to that point, Australia had never quite overturned the widely held view that their batting was suspect beyond the top three of Shane Watson, David Warner and Michael Hussey.

Watson and Warner had given their side the veneer of invincibility during the earlier matches, pummelling a series of opposition attacks when presented with middling targets. But as the Premadasa Stadium pitches grew tired and opponents adapted to Australia's tactics, the early sheen gave way to a greater number of errors and a creeping fatigue - mental as much as physical.

This was surprising, for no Australian T20 team has been so comprehensively drilled for a particular task. From the moment the national selector John Inverarity named Bailey as the new T20 captain in January, and also included the ageing wrist spinner Brad Hogg, it was clear the team's objective was no longer developmental or promotional in nature. Here was a team chosen to win the World T20 trophy, nothing more and nothing less.

In contrast to previous squads, Bailey's was given plenty of time to work together, playing series against India, West Indies and Pakistan while also spending time in camp. Inverarity had charged the team's leaders "to drive a focused, disciplined and fiercely determined culture in this team". Culture has become a key word in Australian cricket, and consistent team selections were geared towards creating the most united group possible for Sri Lanka. There was extra scouting work done too, as the coach Mickey Arthur stayed home from part of the preceding tour of the UAE to plan for Sri Lanka.

Initially it worked, as Ireland, West Indies, India and South Africa were swatted away with impressive might. Arthur's pre-tournament conclusion that the Premadasa pitches would start with some life proved well founded. Rested from the UAE series, Watson was at the centre of it all, claiming four Man-of-the-Match awards in succession. Xavier Doherty came in for Dan Christian against South Africa and immediately had an impact, burgling three wickets while keeping the runs down.

Yet the margins of these victories may ultimately have hurt Australia as much as they helped. A powerful top order flourished but did no more than required if the tournament was to be won. The less credentialled batsmen beneath had little to do, and little chance to prove to themselves that they were up to the task if a match became tight. The bowlers did well, Mitchell Starc especially, but invariably held the momentum after early wickets fell. When Pakistan and the West Indies both formed partnerships there did not seem an Australian bowler capable of twisting the match with a double break.

Bailey led the side neatly enough, and showed flashes of batting that indicated his place was more deserved than some thought. But he felt the strain of leading his country in his first year as an international cricketer, his trademark smile becoming wryer with each match.

So when the contests came, there was a flatness to the way Australia performed at the pointy end, a certain sharpness missing. This was best illustrated in the field, where a previously zippy unit moved sluggishly in the final two games, perhaps lacking Christian's vim. There was a costly dropped catch by Glenn Maxwell from the edge of Nasir Jamshed against Pakistan, and a handful of other misfields. Against West Indies, the fielders watched 14 sixes sail over their heads, but the brothers Hussey also allowed a pair of shots burst through their fingers to the boundary.

As Bailey, Arthur or Inverarity must have known, such lapses could not be afforded by a team lacking the depth of talent available to some other sides. Beyond Watson, Warner, Hussey and Starc, few of Australia's other players would have commanded places in the T20 teams named by the opposing nations. Maxwell's selection for the tournament was a bold gamble, showing confidence in a young allrounder with enormous belief in his own ability. But "the big show", as teammates dubbed Maxwell, was ultimately a sideshow, playing a poor game against Pakistan to lose his place for the semi.

It may have been a failure of nerve if anything to recall David Hussey in Maxwell's place. Possessing a rich domestic T20 record and a vast array of experience, he was left out until the last possible moment, as Bailey and Arthur judged Dan Christian, Cameron White and Maxwell to be better options. At times Bailey in particular was annoyed by the level of interest in Hussey's absence from the XI. Finally he was called on for the semi-final, and as it turned out he was ineffectual, expensive with the ball and bouncer-shy with the bat.

Bailey led the side neatly enough, and showed flashes of batting that indicated his place was more deserved than some thought. But he felt the strain of leading his country in his first year as an international cricketer, his trademark smile becoming wryer with each match. He also placed too much faith in his longtime Tasmania teammate and friend Doherty against West Indies, handing him a final over that felt predestined to end in carnage against Chris Gayle and Kieron Pollard.

Ultimately, the failure of Australia's quest reflected the limitations of their players. The nation's pace bowling resources are strong, but there is a thinness to the batting and spin bowling that needs somehow to be rectified. Otherwise all the planning in the world will not prevent Australia from puzzling at future ICC events, as Rhodes once did, about how familiarity does not guarantee success.

Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Scott on October 8, 2012, 14:36 GMT

    Why are there so many saying that M Hussey didn't do well in this tournament? If you look at his scores, he's done perfectly well albeit just not in the semi final. One bad score doesn't make a bad player...

    To the english and Indian supporters criticising the Australian lack of depth, they should certainly be looking in the mirror as both of their sides are terribly lacking in quality in T20. in fact, the English were using Luke Wright as their top batsman and hoping some bloke who had 1 good knock once was world class - that's when you know the cupboards are bare!! For india, if Kohli doesn't score the runs, then nobody does. Sehwag looks shot and gambhir was all over the place. Then they look to Dhoni to save them from the mire they've got themselves in to. They also blame a little bit of dampness hinders their "top quality" spinners so much that they're almost incapable of bowling anything other than the complete trash they threw done at Aus - which was duly caned to all parts!

  • Michael Ponnudurai on October 8, 2012, 8:50 GMT

    Getting players doing well in Tests and ODIs to play T20s is going to hurt performances in Tests and ODIs in the long run. Would rather develop a team only for T20. Steve O'Keefe and Callum Freguson should make it to the T20 team. Holland should be brought in first into ODIs and moved later to Tests-to help when Aus tours subcontinent where the boards trust dustbowls more than they trust their players

  • Michael on October 8, 2012, 1:44 GMT

    @indiabadri: Yep, the Australian 'era' is over, and has been for a while. Let's all get behind India... oh wait, didn't they fail to even make the semis?

  • Michael on October 8, 2012, 1:30 GMT

    Martin Crowther: I disagree with you on Bailey. With the exception of Doherty bowling the last over against WI, what has he done wrong as Captain? As a batsman, he was the only one in that match to offer any resistance. David Hussey has been out of T20 form for at least 2 years, and doesn't deserve his spot anymore - his last 15 innings have averaged under 14 at less than a run a ball. Shaun Marsh still hasn't regained any form and would most likely have been a walking wicket. This is the problem with picking players on reputation alone.

  • Marcio on October 8, 2012, 1:16 GMT

    I couldn't agree with Landl47 more. Luck just has way too much say in this format. The WI were one ball away from being eliminated vs NZ, and basically played awful the first 5 games - then won the comp. On performances they were not the best team in the competition - and by a long shot. And how SL blew the final from an unbeatable position simply defies belief! Just astounding tactical stupidity. Why prepare a spinner's paradise and then stubbornly keep bowling a fastbowler who is going for 15 an over when there are guys there going for 3 an over on a dead slow track? Was Homer Simpson captaining the team? Doh! Nobody to blame but themselves. But it was shades of the Galle test vs AUS. Prepare a dodgy track - then lose the toss and get burnt.

  • Michael on October 8, 2012, 1:04 GMT

    I'd like to know what people suggest should have been done differently. Should either Watson or Warner, the two in-form openers, have been 'rested' or dropped down the order in the opening stages, when they were yet to display their form? As it was, Maxwell was tried at 3 in one match and had all of six balls to face. All in all, I think a semi-finals berth is something Australia can be proud of, considering their recent record. As mentioned, though, the tournament has highlighted a problem with spin bowling (facing as well as delivering) - perhaps Lyon should have been included - and a need for young batsmen. Both of these issues have been apparent for a few years at least, but there is no miracle cure. Maybe moving on from Hussey and White would be a good start though.

  • David on October 8, 2012, 1:01 GMT

    Came here to say exactly what landl47 has already said. Great comments. Will simply add that a three- or five-test series almost always delivers the right result, whereas a single T20 game (or even a few of them) can still deliver "lucky" results to a minnow team.

  • D on October 8, 2012, 0:08 GMT

    Maybe Lisa Sthalekar could be given a go in the men's T20 team? She certainly looks like one of the top five spinners in Australia in this format currently.

  • Philip on October 7, 2012, 23:45 GMT

    One point where this WC does matter is that it's in Asia. Simple geography and maths tells us that Australia's international cricketers are going to play there a lot in the future. Spin will be important. One thing that can be taken from this tournament is the success spinners had in taking wickets and not with the toe-hitting slow bowling we see all too regularly here in Oz - but with variety and serious skill. That is a message we need to give our talented kids - learn to spin well and there are opportunities in T20, learn to bat and keep properly to quality spin and the same opportunities apply. By ignoring the whole concept however, we'll just leave it to them to go down the slogging, spot-dropping path. It's ironical that one mid-teen around here had a successful A-grade senior T20 series last year after being disregarded as a bit of a grafter. Because he'd focussed on long-form he'd learnt properly. Now he's adding the non-traditional stuff and that's the right order to do it in.

  • Andrew on October 7, 2012, 23:36 GMT

    @Martin Crowther - you had me right up until "....should have called up Shaun marsh...." then it got progressively worse. David Hussey has been as poor form as White (worse actually), & Brad Hodge (despite whatever slights he has had) is retired. @ heathrf1974 on (October 07 2012, 13:32 PM GMT) - except unfortunately we have the Champ League to bugger things up!

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