Australia's coach Darren Lehmann has denied that the ongoing pay dispute involving Cricket Australia and the nation's cricketers played any role in his team's early exit from the Champions Trophy. Having had their first two group matches washed out, Australia needed to win against England on Saturday to progress, but instead suffered a 40-run defeat via the DLS method.
Australia will now head home to begin preparations for their tour of Bangladesh later this year, but they will do so against the backdrop of employment uncertainty. CA and the Australian Cricketers' Association have until the end of this month to reach a consensus on a new Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) or risk an ugly situation in which players may find themselves uncontracted.
The pay standoff has been going on for many months now and Australia's vice-captain David Warner last week expressed his disappointment that CA had distributed an information video stating their case for MoU changes while Australia's players should have been focusing on the Champions Trophy.
Warner said at the time: "If CA were trying to help us win, I don't think they'd be trying to release videos like that". However, after the loss to England in Birmingham on Saturday, Lehmann said he did not believe the pay dispute had played any part in Australia failing to progress to the Champions Trophy semi-finals.
"No excuses from our point of view on the MoU," Lehmann said. "That's going on behind the scenes - it can probably come to the forefront now that we've finished. They'll get down to that and sort that out. No excuses from our end on the MoU.
"It's always there. It's the elephant in the room. It's always going to be talked about. But from a playing point of view, you're out there, surely you're not thinking about the MoU when you're batting or bowling. I wouldn't think that would have affected the players' performance at all."
Australia's preparation for the tournament was not helped by a washed out warm-up game, and their first two matches against New Zealand and Bangladesh were also rained out - they were on track to beat Bangladesh in the second game when it started pouring heavily, but New Zealand had the upper hand in the first match. Lehmann said Australia's preparation had been adequate, but they had not been up to the task in the critical match.
"We were just outplayed," Lehmann said. "We were probably 30 or so short with the bat. We needed some of those guys to go on and get hundreds. [Aaron] Finch and [Steven] Smith played well, but we needed the top four to get a hundred. And then we bowled pretty poorly after the rain break. Disappointing result.
"Just disappointing, I think we lost 5 for 15 at one stage. Credit to England, they bowled well, but I think we helped them a bit in the back end of our innings. We were sitting reasonably well at one stage but once you lose wickets you're always in a bit of trouble. I think it was 4 for 240 odd when Maxi got out. You'd hope to get close to 300, but we didn't."
Australia's cause was not helped by a let-off for England captain Eoin Morgan, who was dropped down the leg side by Matthew Wade early in the chase. Morgan was on 12 at the time, and pressed on to make 87.
"It was disappointing. He should grab them, but nobody means to drop them, either," Lehmann said. "Disappointing part of the game, especially at that time. But again, they played really well. Morgan and Stokes were very good today."
Australia's own batting set-up did not work as they hoped, with the addition of Moises Henriques at No.4 proving ineffective. Henriques scored 18 and 17 in his two innings in the tournament, and his presence in the side meant there was no room for fellow allrounder Marcus Stoinis, who struck a stunning 146 not out in an ODI in Auckland earlier this year.
"We'll have to sit back and have a look at that, moving forward, what we do there," Lehmann said. "Marcus was very good in New Zealand so it's a tough selection call. You take advice from everyone and you make a call and the skipper was quite keen for him to bat four. He [Henriques] looked good but probably didn't capitalise."
Lehmann said Australia would need to find a way to return to the "brave" style of play that they displayed at the 2015 World Cup. It is an approach that he believes England and New Zealand have now adopted, and Lehmann bristled somewhat at the suggestion that Australia could learn something from the way England and New Zealand were currently playing in the ODI format.
"I think England and New Zealand took the way we played in the last World Cup," he said. "We played with bravery and we smashed every side, bar obviously New Zealand in Auckland. They're starting to take the way we played, not vice-versa. When they win a World Cup, then we can take the way they play.
"We certainly want to get back to playing brave cricket. I don't think we were brave enough or smart enough in this tournament. I would have liked us to play with a lot more freedom or bravery."