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Match Analysis

Australia's depth promising, but shows up a few shallows

The team's bench-strength is yet to assume the proportions of 20 or so years ago when they dominated the cricket world

Daniel Brettig
Daniel Brettig
When Australia were at their absolute peak as a cricketing power, certainly in the mind of Justin Langer, a number of their finest achievements took place with at least one stellar name missing from their team, if not more.
In 1998, Australia won a Test series in Pakistan for the first time since 1959-60, and they did it without Shane Warne as he recovered from shoulder surgery. In 2003, Ricky Ponting's men lifted the World Cup at the Wanderers in Johannesburg, again without Warne due to a drugs ban and also minus Jason Gillespie. And the twin Test series triumphs in Sri Lanka and India in 2004 took place without Glenn McGrath and Ponting respectively.
Those triumphs were instead populated by critical contributions from players who, in some cases, appeared only briefly on the national stage, and in others were longtime support acts, ready and willing to step up as required. The likes of Colin Miller, Andy Bichel, Michael Kasprowicz and Simon Katich were never box office stars, but their ability to step in when required was as sure a sign of Australian cricket's health as the displays of the legends they occasionally filled in for. Equally, Adam Gilchrist proved himself a highly capable leader in Ponting's stead.
So for Langer, the multiple changes to Australia's lineup for the third ODI against India in Canberra was more than a chance to see how Cameron Green would fare on debut, how Sean Abbott would perform in a senior role with the ball and how Marnus Labuschagne and Moises Henriques did up the batting order. It was a timely test of Australian cricket's depth, and whether or not the team was still extremely reliant on the absent David Warner, Pat Cummins and Mitchell Starc.
The day's first significant event was Virat Kohli's victory at the toss, for it meant that both hosts and visitors were cast in different roles from the ones both performed in unerringly similar fashion at the SCG on Friday and Sunday. Aaron Finch got the chance to marshal his bowlers against an opponent not facing a stratospheric score to chase, and likewise the Australian batting order was handed the chance to chase: the most contentious element of their displays in England earlier in the year.
For the majority of India's innings, the off-peak combination worked exceptionally well. Glenn Maxwell's use with the new ball was a success, Abbott delivered his slingy fast medium with skill and subtle variation, Ashton Agar paired artfully with Adam Zampa to tie up the middle order and Green offered a tantalising glimpse of his natural gifts by generating disconcerting bounce and not inconsiderable pace while clearly operating within himself.
At the same time, Josh Hazlewood's first couple of spells were those of a senior bowler and a leader of the attack, culminating in the beautiful away seamer that found the thinnest of edges from Kohli to mean he had fallen to the "Bendemeer Bullet" three times in as many games. All the while, Finch looked very much a captain in control, aware not just of the strengths and weaknesses of his senior men but also the support cast he was handed for game three.
It will be to Finch and Langer's annoyance that this did not last. Hardik Pandya and Ravindra Jadeja got themselves established after Kohli's dismissal, and once set, they inflicted fearful damage on Abbott and Hazlewood in particular in the closing overs. Eighty-six runs piled up from the final six overs of the innings. For Abbott, this was clearly frustrating but not a first - in the Big Bash League he is known as a high-quality operator with the occasional tendency to have a bad over or two. There are lapses he cannot afford quite so much at the top level.
Australia's triumphs were always populated by critical contributions from players who, in some cases, appeared only briefly on the national stage, and in others were longtime support acts, ready and willing to step up as required
When the Australians opened up their reply, Finch elected to grant the wish of Labuschagne and promote him to open, after the fashion of Michael Clarke and occasionally Ponting in the late 2000s. This meant that not only was there another opener in place of Warner, but a less than seasoned middle order linking Steven Smith and the six-seven duo of Alex Carey and Maxwell.
In his imperial role as the face, voice and most outspoken opinion maker for Fox Cricket, Warne offers all manner of opinions, but perhaps his most enduring this day was a preference to replace Warner with another role-player, perhaps Matthew Wade, at the top and leave the middle order alone. Certainly this seemed a sound judgment when Labuschagne found himself dragging a pull shot onto the stumps, and Smith made it only as far as 7 before glancing into the gloves of KL Rahul.
This left Finch in the company of Henriques and Green, who both showed signs of promise but also evidence they will need time to get truly comfortable. Henriques could not have made a better start - two boundaries from as many balls - but thereafter was able to be tied down just enough by India to have him pulling to midwicket having made only another 14 runs from his final 29 deliveries faced.
Green, similarly, showed that as might be expected from a player who has played more Sheffield Shield than anything else, the nudges, deflections and singles required of all limited-overs players are yet to be found in between stern defence and powerful attack. In the course of the dots Green accumulated, Finch fell while trying to clear the boundary. These innings were not all Langer might have hoped for, but they did at least allow Maxwell to get to the middle in a scenario he knew well from England.
For a while it looked as though Maxwell and Carey, then Maxwell and Agar, would pay appropriate homage to another extremely valuable attribute from Australia's dominant era: that of expert white-ball batsmen finishing the job even on days when the top order did not fire. Michael Bevan, Michael Hussey, Andrew Symonds - all would have seen much to admire in how Maxwell looked to be shepherding the Australians to 3-0, even if they might've gone a bit lighter on the 100 metre switch-hits.
Ultimately, however, Maxwell's hyper-aggression had him playing too presumptuously at a Jasprit Bumrah yorker, and the remainder of the order could not rally sufficiently. Langer, then, was left to make the inevitable conclusion that just as his first-choice team is yet to achieve all he wants it to, the Australians' bench-strength is also yet to assume the proportions of 20 or so years ago.

Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @danbrettig