They barely scraped through in the run chase against South Africa, but it’s a World Cup after all and you never write Australia off, writes Rohit Sankar.
It’s odd that despite playing 43 matches together across formats and a combined 88 T20Is, the careers of Pat Cummins, Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazlewood never coincided in the shortest format of the game until Saturday when they all walked out together for Australia’s opening game of the T20 World Cup. It was the first ever time the three played a T20I together.
While other sides are distancing their T20 outfits from their Test teams and creating a band of their own in this format, here was a team, very vocal about the absence of a T20 title in their stacked cupboard of trophies, leaving out their second highest wicket-taker in the format since the start of 2020 to play their three elite Test quicks together.
If it wasn’t clear already, in layman terms, Australia are a ‘boring’ T20 team. Separate out Glenn Maxwell, the most T20 of T20 players, and this line-up is drier than some of those wickets they will be playing on this tournament.
Take Hazlewood’s post-match presentation comments for instance. “I think length was the key, hitting the right length, just on top of the stumps. Anything slightly short or fuller seemed easy, so length was key,” he said after winning the Player of the Match for nailing his line and length in a T20 game.
If that seems odd, take Aaron Finch’s pre-match comments where he all but gives up the team sheet in the press conference way before the match. “We’ll go with seven specialist batters, four specialist bowlers, plus the all-rounders,” Finch said.
It’s not the first time an Australian from the camp has talked about the team structure. A few months back, head coach Justin Langer spoke of moving towards the seven-four team construction that he believed gave them a “different way of winning games”. The four frontline bowlers with two others capable of chipping in as the fifth bowler is an archaic T20 strategy, long deserted by most teams.
Then there’s Steve Smith, the modern day batting genius, freakish by nature, yet not freaky enough to sit alongside this freak format.
On Saturday, he walked in with Australia at 20-2, chasing 119 to win and played a proper grind, without those extravagant leaves and animated shadow batting immediately after a delivery. That Smith walks into a T20 line up is by itself questionable. That he walks in after the fall of two wickets is, by the modern T20 batting line-up manual, an absolute no-no.
Yet, as he caressed and prodded his way along to 35 off 34 balls, you almost wished he wore a floppy hat over his head to complete the aura of a 2000s limited-overs batter. Almost to Smith’s tune, the entire team danced.
If South Africa hit their first six in the 17th over, Australia’s never came. In a day and age where boundary hitting, especially six hitting, is a frontline metric to judge batting sides, Australia aren’t too bothered about it.
But as they scraped through for a win in the final over on Saturday, you couldn’t help draw parallels with another team in yellow lifting a trophy in this country a week or so back. Chennai Super Kings, dubbed ‘Dad’s Army’ for their ageing team and age-old tactics lifted the IPL title for the fourth time despite often being labelled just the same: “boring”.
There’s a plausible reason why these teams thrive in these conditions. Time stops on T20 cricket here. Some of those modern-day T20 metrics pales in comparison to the ability to just stick around and rotate strike or just turn up and hit the right areas, phrases you’d hardly associate with this format.
Australia have just the right players to push this agenda further. Three quicks who do it day in-day out in Test cricket, a genius who does it Test after Test with the bat and some proper anchors capable of playing some good old percentage cricket.
It’ll take more than just the old graft for Australia to end up breaking their title hoodoo in T20 World Cups, but who is to say this won’t work on these wickets? We are talking about Australia and World Cups. They sure know how to win one.