Australia's white-ball cricketers have only been back in action for a week, and already talk has swung around to their difficulties in the middle order. The topic is unlikely to go away over the course of three ODIs against England, a side that have set the modern template for going hard throughout the innings, but Adam Gilchrist believes the current squad contains in Josh Philippe a player capable of being Australia's "catalyst for change".
A 23-year-old wicketkeeper-batsman from Western Australia, firmly in the Gilchrist mould, Phillipe has played just 13 List A games and is perhaps a long shot for an ODI debut on this tour. His most incendiary form has come as a T20 opener, having helped Sydney Sixers to the 2019-20 BBL title, but Gilchrist, speaking on a Zoom call to promote the Royal London series between England and Australia, touted him as potentially the spark Australia have been missing recently.
Philippe's lack of experience even could count in his favour, according to three-time World Cup winner Gilchrist, and help change the mindset of an Australia batting unit that he described as "a fraction conservative" in their approach towards building a one-day innings.
"I reckon a guy who, in time, could very well be the solution, whether it's going out at No. 1 or 2 or getting a chance in that middle order, is Josh Philippe," Gilchrist said. "Born and bred in Perth, I know his dad very well, he worked at the WACA for well over 20 years. Very exciting young talent, still learning his craft, about himself and what his capabilities are, and of course match situations. But the quicker you get them exposed to the top level, with that uninhibited approach he can maybe catch a few teams off guard - that's only going to instil more confidence in him to not suddenly have to think he's got to rein it in because he's at the next level.
"He's a really aggressive young kid, and just observing what took England to the No. 1 position in the four years leading up to that World Cup victory, was that change in mindset, from the captaincy to the approach to batting, the way that they want to just attack - and you're going to have your train wrecks occasionally. But just as a general statement, a fraction conservative that Aussie batting line-up and a guy like Philippe could be a catalyst for change."
Ahead of Friday's opening encounter, captain Aaron Finch admitted Australia were "still searching for our best formula" in the 50-over format, with Mitchell Marsh set to be given another chance in the middle order, after the allrounder helped to resurrect another stuttering batting performance in the third a T20I earlier in the week.
"It's been a little bit of a handbrake for the Australians in the one-day format for a number of years, those middle overs, particularly against the spinning ball," Gilchrist said. "Not only does the run rate come down but they tend to lose wickets in clumps - we saw that with the collapse in the first [T20I]. That was, I guess, pressure, perhaps rustiness, six months out of the game and rushing over there and all the unique situations that cricketers find themselves in at the moment.
"But I think that's the area where other teams have tended to be accelerating and playing that more aggressive brand of cricket - that's been our Achilles heel for a number of years. So that will be challenging again, with the make-up of the England bowling line-up and how everyone in world cricket is probably aware of that handbrake for Australia there.
"It's all on the Aussies to work out what the psychology will be, what the match plan will be and what the make-up of the batting order will be."
On that front, Finch confirmed that Alex Carey will continue to keep wicket in ODIs, having been dropped for Australia's victory in the final T20I, but it might not be long before Philippe is seen as a viable option; Matthew Wade is also a candidate despite relinquishing the gloves in recent times to focus on winning selection as a Test batsman.
Carey's status has taken a bit of a hit, having lost his vice-captaincy role last month and with Australia seemingly unsure of how to make use of his abilities as a batsman. Gilchrist drew a contrast with the expectations England have of Jos Buttler, or even Jonny Bairstow as a keeper who bats, and suggested that Carey himself might need to force the issue by demanding a more specific brief in the batting line-up.
"For a long while it's almost seemed that Australia hasn't quite known what their best XI is, maybe what their best XIII is," Gilchrist said. "But that wicketkeeping role, Alex Carey showing so much promise in an array of facets of the game - leadership, his wicketkeeping is excellent, he's opened in Big Bash with great success, and he's shown some really solid form in that middle-order finishing role. But he still hasn't consistently banged out 80 off 40, total game-changing innings, a la a guy like Buttler does regularly, or Bairstow if he happens to have the gloves. So that wicketkeeping allrounder position has not quite been totally fulfilled, probably since Brad Haddin.
"So there'll be some decisions to be made there, by selectors about who they think can do it, or by Alex Carey about just how innovate and creative and aggressive he needs to be to have that impact - and is it at the top of the order, or down at seven, six, or floating?"
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