George Bailey, Australia's Twenty20 captain, believes finding bowlers who can restrict runs at the death will be one of the keys for his side over the next year as they prepare for the 2014 World Twenty20 in Bangladesh. The world tournament is just over a year away and with relatively few T20 matches coming up over the next 12 months, the Australians are already looking to build a squad as they aim to improve in last year's semi-final appearance.
One of the problems that was evident over the past two games against Sri Lanka was the leaking of runs in the final overs, despite the fact that the selectors had picked men who had specialised in death bowling during the Big Bash League. Ben Laughlin was especially expensive, leaking 20 runs in the final over at the MCG and 19 from his last five balls in the first match in Sydney as Sri Lanka chased down the target with seven deliveries to spare.
Laughlin was not the only culprit, though. In Melbourne on Monday, the final five overs of Sri Lanka's innings cost Australia 60 runs and that period was the difference between the two sides. It was a stark contrast to the first match in Sydney, where the Australians were batting first and managed only 36 runs from their final five overs as they struggled to find the boundary against Lasith Malinga and his colleagues.
"That's probably the gap between the best T20 team in the world and the seventh best," Bailey said after the Melbourne loss. "Hopefully we'll learn a lot about that. I think we've got some bowlers in our side who can be world-class at T20. There's great foundations there. I thought James Faulkner was really good tonight. Mitchell Starc has been outstanding, Glenn Maxwell's two back-to-back games have been really good with the ball. There's some good stuff there.
"There's a huge opportunity there for a bowler to step up, and not just for T20. I think if a bowler can step up and nail their death stuff they're almost walking into our one-day side as well. If I was a bowler it would have to be a huge source of excitement, something certainly to be working towards."
Bailey said it was disappointing that his Hobart Hurricanes team-mate Laughlin had not been able to translate his BBL form to the international stage over the past few days, but that he would be better for the experience. However, whether or not Laughlin retains his place for the one-off T20 against West Indies next month remains to be seen.
"That's what he's in the side for," Bailey said. "He's in the side to do what Lasith Malinga does for them, to be able to nail his death stuff, to be hard to hit through the middle with his change-ups. He's got a great amount of variation but Lasith will tell you the same thing, if you're not putting the ball where you want then at this level you will be made to pay.
"I still think Benny has the skills to do it, so it's nice that he's had a look at international level and knows exactly what he has to go away and work on or how he has to find a way to relax so he can execute as well as he did during the domestic summer."
The coach Mickey Arthur said the two matches against Sri Lanka, last year's World T20 runners-up, had been an eye-opener for those players who had stepped up from BBL level. He said while Mitchell Starc had been a consistently good death bowler for the Australians over the past year they needed to find others who could also do the job.
"It is a problem for us and it's something we're looking to solve pretty quick and we need to get some answers," Arthur said. "We work fairly hard on it and we've just got to identify guys who can do it consistently for us, that's the key. We thought we had picked some really good death bowlers and the domestic BBL shows that they were the best, if you looked at the stats. They still are.
"I spoke to the guys the other night after the game in Sydney and the guys have actually seen what the level is. We had pretty much a BBL all-stars side playing. We took the best of the BBL and gave them an opportunity here. I think they've seen what the difference is between playing and being successful at a domestic level and then trying to do it at international level. We've been short in that department."