ICC CRICKET WORLD CUP 2019
Australia have been renowned for their never-say-die attitude. And in the 2019 edition, we saw more evidence of it. © AFP
What worked for them?
Five-time champions. Never lost in a semifinal of a 50-over World Cup. Australia entered the mega-event with a glittering trophy cabinet and a record to be proud of. However, over the last two decades, this was perhaps only the second time they arrived on the big stage without being one of the favourites. Yet, they once again showed the famed Australian grit before falling short against an explosive England unit in the last four.
Even if we go back in time to the 1975 World Cup when Gary Gilmour’s all-round show hauled his side into the World Cup final, Australia have been renowned for their never-say-die attitude. And in the 2019 edition, we saw more evidence of it. Maybe the duo of Justin Langer and Ricky Ponting joining forces as the head and assistant coaches respectively, played a part in instilling the much-needed self-belief in a side that had gone through a turbulent phase in the last 18 months. Aaron Finch also led from the front admirably with both bat, and as captain.
In the crucial encounter against West Indies, Jason Holder and Andre Russell looked set to take the Caribbean side home. Australia needed a bout of inspiration and it came from Mitchell Starc who dismissed the trio of Holder, Russell and Carlos Brathwaite in quick succession. In the subsequent match versus Pakistan, just when the opponent was edging ahead, Australia pulled them back.
Pakistan clawed their way back into the game by picking up the last eight scalps for 84 to bowl Australia out for 307. At 136 for 2, Pakistan were very much in the hunt, but Pat Cummins engineered a collapse. Sarfraz Ahmed alongside Wahab Riaz and Hasan Ali tried another rescue act, but Starc provided the finishing touches to seal the game. Even at Lord’s against New Zealand, the opposition was in the ascendancy on a couple of occasions, only for Australia to peg them back and eventually, emerge victorious.
Starc, who blended swing with pace and the left-arm angle, finished with most wickets in a World Cup (27), while David Warner (647) and Finch (507) were among the top run-getters in the tournament. In fact, it was the failure of the opening duo in the semifinal that resulted in their eventual downfall.
What pulled them back?
Unfortunately, the bedrocks of Australia’s middle order – Usman Khawaja, Steven Smith and Glenn Maxwell, couldn’t create the kind of impact that the think-tank would have hoped for. Smith shone brightly in fits and starts, including a battling half-century in the semifinal, but as a group, the Australian middle order couldn’t click.
With Khawaja suffering a hamstring injury, Peter Handscomb replaced the southpaw in the semifinal. However, his old failings against the moving ball was again exposed in the Edgbaston semifinal. Maxwell and Marcus Stoinis, on the other hand, couldn’t provide the required impetus in the slog overs.
What did they sorely miss?
A lynchpin in the middle order and the supporting cast for Starc in the bowling department. Even though Warner and Finch gave blazing starts, Australia couldn’t find that one mainstay in the middle order who could consistently hold the innings together. Cummins was expected to spearhead the pace attack alongside Starc, but was a tad below par, finishing with 14 scalps at an average of over 30. With moisture around, Jason Behrendorff found movement in the Lord’s games versus England and New Zealand before fading away on truer wickets. The spin duo of Nathan Lyon and Adam Zampa also couldn’t make much of an impression.
Best player – Mitchell Starc
Starc, Warner and Finch were the standout players for Australia through the course of the tournament. However, Starc was the best of the trio – for the simple reason that whenever Australia needed a wicket, invariably Finch turned to Starc and the pacer rarely disappointed his skipper. His crucial spells, at different stages of the innings, versus West Indies, New Zealand, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and England are a case in point.
Alex Carey also deserves a special mention. The inexperienced ‘keeper-batsman time and again compiled useful hands to shore up the innings. His knocks of 45 versus West Indies, 71 versus New Zealand and 85 against South Africa all came at crucial junctures of the innings.
Disappointing player – Glenn Maxwell
In the 2015 World Cup, Maxwell was one of the cornerstones of Australia’s amazing triumph – ending with 324 runs at an average of over 60 and a mind-numbing strike rate of 182.02. He had also bagged six wickets. However, any athlete would have his or her fair share of ups and downs. Four years later, in the 2019 World Cup, the explosive batsman could accumulate only 177 runs. Maxwell’s lack of form could be capsulised by the fact that he couldn’t notch up a single fifty.
What’s on the highlights reel?
Finch and Warner sizzling at the top of the order was one of the highlights of Australia’s campaign. the duo strung together three hundred plus stands. Finch even took his game to elevated levels with a stunning 153 versus Sri Lanka at The Oval. Other than the duo’s opening stands, Australia’s journey in the World Cup would be remembered for Starc’s inch-perfect yorker that tailed in to clean up the dangerous Ben Stokes in the Lord’s game.
Early in the tournament, a stunning cameo from Nathan Coulter-Nile against West Indies after coming in at 147 for 6. He went on to get 92 off just 60 balls helping Australia post 288.
Meanwhile, the way Carey erased the fine lines of pain and fear after copping a nasty blow on his chin while facing a short ball from Archer in the semifinal and continued to bat also makes the highlights reel.