With Australia two-nil down in the series after being outplayed twice, something has to give.
Coach Mickey Arthur has hinted Australia may try to follow England’s lead by returning to ‘traditional one-day values’ for the remainder of the series. In layman speak, this means to play a dull but effective style of cricket, loading the team with successful Test players and grinding out results.
But Australia doesn't need to be England to beat them.
To follow their blueprint would be to partially abandon what made Australia successful in the first place. Australia played a brand of cavalier cricket during their ‘Modern Invincibles’ era, transforming the way both ODIs and Tests were played.
Our brand of cricket works
Australia were amongst the first teams to choose players specifically for the shorter format and to use batsmen in unfamiliar positions. They played belligerent ODI cricket, selecting aggressive batsmen and wicket taking bowlers. Whilst their Test dominance in this period was impressive, their ODI record was perhaps even better. They boast three consecutive World Cup victories and went thirty-four matches unbeaten in the competition. Even now they remain top of the rankings, having stood there for all but thirteen months since 2000.
In this series, Australia have already conceded to England’s superiority by replacing the volatile Steven Smith with the prosaic Peter Forrest after the defeat at Lord’s. Forrest was unable to have any impact on the second match and was part of the middle over malaise that affected the side.
Prior to the series David Warner talked about the need to ‘reign himself in’ in English conditions and hasn’t looked as threatening at the top of the order. He also talked tough about switch-hitting Graeme Swann, but he and the other Australian batsman have allowed Swann to dictate terms to them.
Taking the game to England
For want of a better sporting platitude, Australia needs to take the game to England. They need to attack early, with bat and ball to try and unsettle them. They have to attempt something different in the middle overs – a change in the batting order perhaps – to try and get on top of Swann. England don’t necessarily adapt well when the game moves away from their initial plans, so trying to exploit these scenarios is key.
England’s current strategy works for them because of the players they have and the conditions they enjoy at home. Their batting is functional and reliable, their fielding excellent, their bowling disciplined and skilled. These attributes transfer simply to the shorter format, where they have now enjoyed six consecutive series wins at home.
But the great Australian sides of the recent past were able to win in all conditions, from a variety of scenarios. England, for all their dominance at home, remain inflexible and inconsistent away from home and continue to turn in poor performances in the subcontinent.
In attempting to replicate England’s success Australia could risk its cricketing identity. The absence of Shaun Marsh, a fine stroke maker, in either the Australian or Australia A squads is an example. Mickey Arthur has intimated that these two squads have been chosen with future matches in England in mind (next year’s Ashes and the Champions Trophy.) Could it be possible that we may have seen the last of him? He may have had a truly dreadful Australian summer, but Marsh is an exciting player and the type of batsman Australian crowds love to watch.
Encouragingly for Australia, this series has precedent. In the corresponding series in 2010, Australia were outplayed early on, losing the first two matches. They recalled Shaun ‘The Wild Thing’ Tait for the remainder, with his slingers nearly turning the series on its head. The third match went down to the last over, with England creeping home by one wicket, before Australia won the final two matches. Tait claimed man-of-the-match honours in the fifth ODI and finished with eight wickets.
Whilst Australia don’t have someone quite like Tait to call on, this squad is capable of turning things around. But they needn’t try to be so English.
The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of Cricket Australia