Narine battle key for Australia
West Indies tours for Aussie fans are often dream-like. They're late at night, often look like someone had smeared Vaseline on the lens and have a kicking soundtrack. It also means that more people hear about great deeds by Aussie players in the Caribbean, than actually see them.
It also means when something happens in an ODI series as Australia tour the West Indies that no one cares about, few fans notice.
Had they stayed awake, looked through the soft-focused Vaselined screen and kept the sound down as not to wake anyone in the house, they would have seen one man tormenting the Australian batsman: Sunil Narine. In a five-match series he took 11 wickets at an average of 14.45 and a scary economy rate of 3.32. He stopped the top order from scoring and dismissed the middle and lower order with ease. Narine was still a mystery to world cricket, his faux-hawk was barely known, his mystery knuckle ball was unplayable and his offspinner gripped and ripped off the dusty surfaces. It was even before he became a cult hero in the IPL.
In the oppressive heat of Sri Lanka, Australia will again meet West Indies, a side who have many players who can win a T20 match on their own. Chris Gayle can decapitate a bowling unit, and he's done that to Australia before. Marlon Samuels can score with ease and make decent bowlers doubt themselves. Dwayne Bravo changes the game with the bat, the ball or with his hands. Kieron Pollard can score at a strike rate that previously never existed. Fidel Edwards bowls swinging yorkers. And even backup players like Andre Russell are capable of amazing destruction.
Yet when the West Indies looked like they would lose to New Zealand and fall out of the tournament, it was Sunil Narine who bowled two overs for only five runs in the 17th and 19th of the match. He also took two wickets.
Australia have already shown they can beat West Indies at the Premadasa in this tournament. In that match, Narine bowled two overs for 15 before the rain came down before he got to bowl his last two overs, and the Australians played him quite cautiously. If they find themselves in another big chase, with a soaring run rate required, their battle with Narine could be the difference between playing in the final or not.
The group game against West Indies was not all smooth sailing for Australia. They punished their bowlers and actually should have made more than the 192 they ended with. No Australian bowler went for less than seven-an-over. The West Indies handled the pace of Mitchell Starc and Pat Cummins easily, Johnson Charles aside. Dan Christian just didn't look like a viable option with the ball. Brad Hogg tried hard, and took one of his two wickets in the tournament. And Glenn Maxwell got Gayled for 17 runs in his one over. But it was a great pitch for batting, as the Australian top order showed when they smacked the West Indian bowlers everywhere.
While all of Australia's matches have been in Colombo, the pitch has changed on Australia. It is no longer the pace-friendly wicket of late September, it's quickly becoming the spin-happy track of early October. The constant use of this square has brought it back in favour of the spinners and sub-continental batsmen.
Starc and Cummins' pace was a real factor at times early in the tournament. Cummins beat up the Indians and barely went for a run. Starc was almost as good against the Pakistanis and took three wickets. Sohail Tanvir showed that, even though the pitch is spinning more, the fast bowlers could still be important, although their pace will be less so against West Indies.
But there is no doubt that spin will play a massive part from here on in. The England v New Zealand women's match was dominated by the English spinners, and for the first men's semi-final the ball continued to spin considerably. Xavier Doherty came in for Christian a few matches back and has by far been Australia's best spin option in this tournament. His early wickets against South Africa set up the game, and against Pakistan he took the wicket of their best batsman Nasir Jamshed.
Brad Hogg has struggled far more. It's not that Hogg has been a catastrophe; he's just not had the impact he had when he first made his comeback. His economy rate of 7.5 is fairly high - only Cummins is worse for Australia - and Hogg's batting is now non-existent. At the age of 41 his eyes can no longer allow him to bat like a man with an average of 35. Australia are yet to bat all the way down in this tournament, and they may not, but Hogg is now probably Australia's No. 11.
With the middle order struggling to get a hit, or look good when they do, it seems Glenn Maxwell is the man who may make way for David Hussey. Maxwell has done little wrong, but he is being barely used as a bowler, and has had little chance to perform with the bat, only batting twice in the tournament for one failure. It would also be a panic move from Australia, as Hussey was in terrible form in the UAE, and most of the Australian middle order have had only one chance to bat under pressure.
Australia could also drop Hogg for David Hussey. Maxwell and Hussey could combine as the fifth bowler whilst strengthening the batting. When Doherty came in for Christian, Australia lost another batting option, this would fix that problem, and while Hussey's bowling is not of the standard of Hogg's in the real world, this is T20, where Hussey's step, step, sling, offspin can work.
On paper the West Indies side looks like a side that should beat Australia, but on the field they seem to be unsure and their decision to bowl Marlon Samuels in the Super Over against New Zealand seemed to stem from the input of too many people apart from Darren Sammy. They are a dangerous opponent, but one that Australia will believe they can beat.