Too soft or too hard so far, how good will the perfect Australia be?
Disappointed with the collapse against Pakistan, Aaron Finch hopes Australian batsmen learn from their mistakes, make better decisions
Next day, it seems they are just an ordinary side. Warner is beating his own mark for the slowest fifty, achieved in the previous match. Usman Khawaja is backing away from a bouncer. They are struggling against spin once again. They are almost blown away by a one-dimensional bouncer plan. If you play out Cummins and Starc, they can seem toothless for long stretches. They don't even have an allrounder in the squad right now.
They have even found ways to put these two extremes together on the same day. In Taunton, against Pakistan
, Warner went back to being the busy and not "timid" opener that he was before he was sent into exile. All of a sudden, Australia were looking extremely dangerous again, and then they wasted a start of 189 for 2 in the 29th over to be bowled out for 307 without even playing out the 50 overs.
It once again came down to the use of Maxwell, who was promoted in this innings to No. 4 after it could have been argued he didn't get enough time to make an impact in the tall chase against India. The feeling you got was, Australia were looking to dominate, and felt they had enough in case there should be a collapse. Maxwell came in, tried to hit through the line, was beaten by one that seamed and was bowled.
That was my decision to send him in, and I probably didn't make the right call on how tough the wicket was to walk in and really up the ante
FINCH ON SENDING MAXWELL IN AT NO. 4 AGAINST PAKISTAN
What followed was an ugly collapse that left captain Aaron Finch
disappointed. "It was a little disappointing to leave a few out there," Finch said in a remarkably honest assessment. "Because we saw on a ground that's so hard to defend like Taunton, that once a team gets a run on it, it can be hard to stop regardless of who is playing. I think we just looking to go a little bit too hard too soon after the start that we had. I think that we probably forced it a little bit too much, and probably left it to somebody else. We thought that somebody else was going to do the job but, at the same time, we still got ourselves into a great position.
"We got guys a little bit of time in the middle that allowed them to get the feel of the game and get a bit of a flow into the World Cup. Shaun Marsh had not played a game; he got to come in and get some time in the middle. It would have been great if he spent a bit more time there and took the game a bit deeper, but when you're playing seven batters, it's probably the risk versus reward. If that comes off, then do you get that huge total, but at the same time, I was probably just a little bit disappointed that we failed to learn throughout the innings.
"There was times when it looked like every time we tried to hit it down the ground, a big shot down the ground in the air, it went straight up. A couple of guys still made that same mistake after a few guys before them had as well. So that was a bit disappointing."
This much is clear: Australia want to impose themselves; they believe they can impose themselves, but they are yet to arrive at an XI and at an understanding where they know what the best way to go about it is. They don't quite have the strike ability of India in the middle overs, so it is understandable that they have to take the risk of going for that above-par total. At the same time, they need batsmen who can scale back out in the middle.
Maxwell, meanwhile, continues to be their jack in the box. They want him to create the maximum impact whenever he goes out to bat. Admittedly, they got that timing wrong in Taunton. "Whether that's from the 35th over, from the 20th over, that's just game-by-game, and that was my decision to send him in, and I probably didn't make the right call on how tough the wicket was to walk in and really up the ante," Finch said. "So that was my bad mistake, especially after being out there for 20 overs. It was probably a wicket that we could have built for a little bit longer and tried to have maximum impact right at the end, rather than maximum impact for 25 overs."
In successive matches, Australia have gone too soft and too hard. They still have three wins in four games. One way of looking at it is they have been lucky that they have six points without being at their best. The other way, the way Australia are looking at it is: how good will they be when or if they get anywhere close to getting it right?
Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo