Australia’s ODI stocks have gone from bad to worse in recent times, having won just two of their last 15 completed matches since the start of last year. However, their crashing defeat at Trent Bridge, where they conceded to the hosts the highest-ever total in men’s ODI cricket, has only made the loopholes in their ODI unit all the more glaring.
The visitors are without their mainstays – Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood, Pat Cummins, Mitchell Marsh, Smith and Warner – for the series, but such poor performances have now ensured that the team has slipped to their lowest-ever ODI ranking – No.6 – in the last 34 years.
Both Smith and Warner will complete serving their bans in March next year and with the World Cup scheduled for May 2019, Australia have an opportunity to include the duo in their scheme of things for the mega event. But with no ODI cricket scheduled for them in that time frame leading up to the World Cup in England, it will be difficult for them to stake a claim.
“It’s hard to say so far out, but the quality of players they are you probably would say they are (walk-up selections),” Hussey said on The Unplayable Podcast on Thursday (June 21). “As long as they do everything right in the lead up; they’re in good touch skills-wise, they’re in good fitness, no injury concerns and they’ve done all the right things preparation-wise and behavioural-wise as well, then you’d have to think they’d come straight back in because they’re such quality players.
“They’ve been quality players for such a long period of time, they’ve had success at the highest level and are important players for Australia. I think they probably do (return) as long as they tick all the boxes along the way.”
As far as match practice is concerned, the duo has signed up to take part in the inaugural Global T20 Canada League, apart from featuring in the following Darwin Cricket League. Warner will be a part of St. Lucia Stars too at the forthcoming Caribbean Premier League 2018. Hussey, though, cited concerns about the team dynamics where the likes of Warner and Smith may find difficult to fit into immediately, having been out of action for long.
“It (the World Cup) is not a long time away and that’s the one thing that does concern me,” Hussey observed. “Leading into a World Cup year, you want to have continuity with your team, you want to get the guys playing together, getting the understanding, the communication out in the middle, knowing their roles very well and feeling comfortable around each other and that’s what England have been able to do.
“That’s why I think they’ll go into the World Cup as favourites because they have such a settled team and they’ve been playing together for quite a period of time now. Now Australia’s not going to have that luxury. We’re going to have some quality players coming back in but they’re not going to have much time to really build that continuity and communication between the group,” he added.
Hussey’s concerns are not just Smith and Warner related as the former player feels that Tim Paine might not be a long-term solution – to not just the leader’s spot but also as a wicketkeeper-batsman. With poor returns of 12, 15 and 5 in the ongoing series, Paine has struggled to lead from the front with his batting. Hussey believes that young Alex Carey, who’s waiting in the ranks for an opportunity, should be given a go if Australia are unsure where Paine stands in a year’s time from now.
“I don’t think we should be picking players just because they’re good leaders. We need to pick the best players and hopefully they’ve got that cultural base in place that whoever comes in, they just know exactly what’s expected of them from a behavioural point of view and what the culture of the team demands of them as well.
“We need to be looking at who’s in our best team and the best players to play in that team. I’m not sure in 12 months’ time Tim Paine will be there because if you think Alex Carey is a better one-day option, you’re better off getting him in there sooner rather than later, if the selectors think he’s a better one-day option.”
With Australia’s batting having been abysmal, the new position at which deputy skipper Aaron Finch is batting has raised a few eyebrows. Their idea of having the seasoned batsman in the middle order is not outlandish though, keeping in mind he’s performed that role that at the Indian Premier League. The inexperience in their batting line-up without the likes of Warner and Smith has forced Finch to bat elsewhere other than the top two, which he’s done in all the 92 ODIs he’s played. However, the move hasn’t worked well this series with Finch having given measly returns.
“I must admit, I initially thought that Aaron Finch is best suited to the top of the order and he probably still is,” Hussey noted. “He can be so dynamic and destructive getting off to fast starts. I think about his combination with David Warner over the last few years from around that World Cup time in 2015, and when they got Australia off to a flying start then Australia won just about every single game.
“It’s probably the best spot for him. However, I have seen him bat in the middle order in T20 games at the IPL over the last couple of seasons and he does an amazing job. He really is a natural in that role. He comes in and seems find the middle of the bat straight away, he seems to be able to find the boundary straight away even if the field is back (and) he’s got power to be able to clear the fence.
“I’ve been really impressed with how he’s played in that middle-order role. A bit like Marcus Stoinis, I thought ‘No, he’s got to be the finisher for Australia’ but he’s actually done a really good job up the order. I think Aaron Finch, in my mind, he’s always got to be at the top of the order. But now I’m starting to soften on that a little bit as well, because I have seen him do such a great job through the middle. But in an ideal world you’d have him at the top.”