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Australia's World Cup health check

05 October 2017

Will this be Australia's top three for the 2019 World Cup? // Getty

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Just 600 days out from their campaign for a sixth World Cup, we take stock of Australia's one-day strengths and weaknesses

About the Writer:
 @martinsmith9994

Martin Smith is a writer for cricket.com.au. He previously wrote for Yahoo!7 Sport and Fox Sports.

Around 18 months out from their World Cup defence, Australia have conceded they need to re-assess their plans following a disappointing year in the 50-over format.

Just five wins from 13 completed matches this year and a streak of 13 losses from their past 14 away from home has seen the Aussies drop to No.3 in the world rankings and fast-bowling coach David Saker concedes things need to change.

Batsmen playing 'a little bit scared': Saker

"Obviously, our away form has been quite dreadful so we have to have a look at that," he said this week. "The next World Cup is away (from home).

"I don't think it's all doom and gloom, I think there's some talent in that team.

"But there's no doubt we have to probably re-jig a few things and see where we're at."

Captain Steve Smith has also urged those playing in the JLT One-Day Cup this month to "jump out of the pack" and put their hand up to help reverse their current trend.

Recent history suggests Australia have plenty of time to turn their fortunes around; in the corresponding ODI series four years ago, 18 months before the 2015 World Cup, Australia's XI for the final ODI in India featured just five of the 11 players who would carry them to victory in the World Cup final at the MCG.

Australia win fifth World Cup crown

With the next World Cup in England and Wales to begin on May 30, 2019, take a look at the strengths and weaknesses of Australia's current one-day set-up.

Batting

The most frustrating aspect of Australia's regular batting stumbles in the past 12 months is that it's difficult to see how a handful of leading contenders can force their way back into the side.

The likes of Shaun Marsh, Usman Khawaja and Cameron White all bat at the top of the order in 50-over cricket domestically, but the current opening combination of David Warner and Aaron Finch was one of Australia's few bright spots in India and they're on track to open again in the World Cup.

White blasts career-best innings

Captain Steve Smith is a lock in the top four, Marcus Stoinis had a fine series batting at No.6 while Travis Head's disappointing Indian campaign was his first major misstep in international cricket and he deserves more chances.

The most galling issue is the lack of a steady No.4, a position filled so well by Michael Clarke and the recently discarded George Bailey for almost a decade. Australian No.4 batsmen have averaged just 23 this year from 15 matches and the likes of Moises Henriques, Peter Handscomb and Head have all been trialled in that position this year with limited success.

Handscomb, just eight matches into his career, could be given another chance or selectors may opt move Smith down a spot to No.4, opening the door for one of Khawaja, Marsh or White to bat at No.3.

Just where enigmatic right-hander Glenn Maxwell and allrounder Mitchell Marsh, who averaged 38 with the bat in the 12 months before he was hit by injury, fit into this puzzle is also yet to be seen.

Mitchell Marsh hammers maiden ODI century

Wicketkeeping

Matthew Wade's contribution at No.7 has tailed off this year following his breakthrough century against Pakistan in January, so much so that he was dropped during this Indian series and replaced by Peter Handscomb.

Wade ton lifts Australia to 9-268 in Brisbane

And if international rookie Handscomb is able to establish himself in the side, he could solve not just one but two major problems in the batting order.

If the Victorian can solidify his spot as a batsman at No.4 or No.5, selectors could opt to hand him the gloves as well and turn to the likes of Head, Stoinis, Maxwell and Mitchell Marsh to provide the late fireworks at No.6 and No.7 in the order.

But given Handscomb averages just 21 from his first eight ODIs, asking him to both bat and keep could be too great a burden so early in his international career.

Wade has played the majority of his ODI career at No.6 or No.7 in the order, a specialised position that Queensland's Jimmy Peirson, Victoria's Sam Harper and NSW's Peter Nevill fill at domestic level. Of that trio, Bulls youngster Peirson has shown a proven ability to find the boundary, while T20 'keeper Tim Paine is also back in favour with national selectors.

Spin bowling

The form of Adam Zampa in India (four wickets at an economy rate of 7) was a major surprise given the strong start to his international career and while Ashton Agar was steady, he's yet to prove himself as a major wicket-taker.

And given fast bowling is undoubtedly Australia's strength, selectors could return to a strategy they use often at home and one that served them well at the 2015 World Cup; play four frontline quicks alongside spin-bowling allrounders in the middle order, namely Travis Head and Glenn Maxwell.

The fact the World Cup will be played early in the English summer, when spinners rarely have a major impact, only adds weight to that argument.

So unless one of Zampa, Agar or Test spinner Nathan Lyon can put forward a strong enough case in the next 18 months, a four-pronged pace attack could be the answer in the UK.

Fast bowling

The major question surrounding Australia's quicks is not who to pick, but just who they'll leave out.

Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazlewood are certain to be in the best XI when fit and the performances of Pat Cummins, Nathan Coulter-Nile and Kane Richardson in India mean selectors will have plenty of options to choose from for their World Cup defence.

Hazlewood six sparks calamitous Kiwi collapse

Richardson's strong performance in the death overs in India means he's put his hand up to fill that role going forward, especially given James Faulkner has struggled to fire in recent international outings and the likes of John Hastings and James Pattinson have struggled with injuries.

So while an all-out pace attack of Starc, Hazlewood, Cummins and Coulter-Nile is a tempting option, Richardson could unseat one of those four and offer some much-needed variety.




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