Australia captain Steven Smith has questioned whether England's bull-at-a-gate batting approach will stand up to the pressure of a World Cup. Smith also said he wanted the Australia squad that will play five ODIs in England this year to be as close as possible to their desired 2019 World Cup combination.
England's methods, rejuvenated since their 2015 World Cup failure, place emphasis on a hyper-aggressive start with the bat, and Smith said that while it was fine in bilateral series there would be a chance of it coming unstuck during the knockout phase of a high-pressure tournament.
That much was true of New Zealand three years ago; they pushed all-out attack to get as far as the 2015 World Cup final, only to fall in a heap against Australia's pace bowlers in front of 93,013 at the MCG. Smith said that while Australia were entering a period of introspection, driven by the team's dipping ODI fortunes, they would try to find a way suited to their playing stocks and mental approach.
"I think our one-day cricket has been disappointing for just over a year now. A lot of it comes down to poor decision making, and execution out in the middle," Smith said. "We've seen when we've played well and won games it's been about the top four, someone there going on and getting a really big score. Then others coming in and playing quite positively around the person getting that big score. That's the blueprint that I think works for us.
"England have played a different brand of cricket where they go really hard the whole time. That can be risky as well at times, particularly in big tournaments. You might get yourselves to the semi-finals or something but you can have those days where you get bowled out for 150. There are a few things to think about in regards to one-day cricket and the way we want to play. We just haven't been good enough, to be honest, the last couple of weeks and the last year.
"[England] are clear in the way they play. They're all very aggressive and go out there and take the game on from ball one. I don't think our players aren't clear, we're just not executing it and making the right decisions at key times. If we get those decisions right, and guys are smarter in the way they play in the middle, we'll turn things around."
Smith's team lost the No. 1 ODI ranking they had held since winning the 2015 World Cup in February last year, and have steadily slid down the ICC's table ever since. They now sit at No. 5, behind South Africa, India, England and New Zealand, following their 4-1 series loss to Eoin Morgan's team.
Given that Cricket Australia's strategic goal for the national team is to be No. 1 in all three formats, the current state of affairs is causing furrowed brows at the game's Jolimont headquarters. Smith and chairman of selectors Trevor Hohns both admitted the team's leaders needed to refresh in terms of approach and personnel before the June series in England, which will mark more or less a year until the next World Cup.
"I think that makes sense. The World Cup being in England, any exposure to those conditions with the likely squad is important," Smith said of taking a prospective World Cup group to England. "A lot can happen in a year as well with injuries and things like that. For us, it'll be trying to get that squad as close as what we think the World Cup is going to be.
"Our middle overs with the bat have been disappointing. We're continually losing wickets and you can't do that anymore against good teams," he said. "You have to have those big partnerships in the middle and let our guys who are big and strong, give them the freedom of the last 10, 15 overs to try and clear the pickets. We've got guys there who do it really well, we just haven't set the game up for them to do it.
"Then the first 10 overs with the ball. At times it's felt like we're trying to get through the 10 overs and having a deep breath, then getting the four guys out and we're behind the game when that 10 overs are finished. We've been really good at pulling it back after that for a while, but we'll make things a lot easier for ourselves if we start well with the ball."
Also speaking on Tuesday, Hohns said the series in England was a key point at which the selectors and team management needed to stabilise both the personnel and the team tactics to be used over the year that followed.
"In our winter here we go to play five one-dayers against England again, so we will be trying at that stage to get a unit together that hopefully can play together and stay together leading into the World Cup," Hohns told SEN Radio. "Of course form will dictate what happens there, but we'll certainly be looking at what type of player we want to take us through to that World Cup and get them playing together.
"We need to sit down and have a look at everything. Not necessarily a review, we don't need to have a national inquiry every time we lose a series, but we're clearly not playing well at the moment, so yes we will be assessing how we play the game and secondly what players are required to play the way we want to play and the utilisation of our players, whether we're utilising them the right way."
Like Smith, Hohns said Australia did not need to plagiarise England. "We don't necessarily have to copy how other teams are playing, England are playing very well, they're a red-hot side as we know, so we'll have a look at how they're playing but try to develop our own style."