Undefeated, unaffected Aussies set to restart their World Cup

While Australia's best beginning to a tournament since 2012 counts for nothing heading into the Super Eight stage, their prospects appear strong

Despite coming off a week overshadowed by a controversy that never eventuated and the prospects of which they say were "blown right out of proportion", Australia embark on the crunch part of their Caribbean crusade having quietly made their best start to a World Cup in their last eight attempts.

Mitch Marsh's men overcame a "sloppy" fielding effort and a gutsy Scotland effort to surge through to the Super Eights undefeated after notching the closest of their four wins so far in a tight contest in St Lucia decided in the game's final over.

Not since the 2012 'World T20' - as it was then known - has an Australian men's side commenced a World Cup with four consecutive victories, having endured early slip-ups even in their ODI triumphs in 2015 and 2023, as well their T20 crown in 2021.

Other than qualifying for the tournament’s second round that will see them play three games in 90 hours across three separate Caribbean islands, Australia's strong start means nothing given their net run-rate has been reset to zero and their billing as Group B's second seed was unalterable from the outset.

"I think there's a big question to be asked about the pre-seeding, I'm not sure I'm a fan of that," Mitchell Starc outlined as the first of two gripes he got off his chest at his post-game press conference.

The Aussies might not necessarily like it but Marsh summed up their situation succinctly: "The World Cup kind of starts again now," the captain told the host broadcaster.

Match Wrap | Stoinis, Head stand firm to spoil Scots surge

Although it was the least convincing of Australia's four wins, the Scotland match allowed them to brush up on several strategic factors they believe will be important for the business end of the tournament.

With Pat Cummins and Josh Hazlewood put on ice, Ashton Agar played his first international match in nine months and Glenn Maxwell bowled four overs in a T20 for Australia for the first time in his last 37 T20Is dating back to the '21 World Cup.

Starc admitted Marcus Stoinis, statistically Australia's best bowler through their first three games with six wickets at 8.66 in nine overs, would ordinarily have bowled against the Scots had there been anything riding on the result for them.

Stoinis imposed himself on the match anyway with a match-winning 29-ball 59 that will have Australia's upcoming opponents (likely Bangladesh, then certainly Afghanistan and India) scouting the allrounder as one of his team's biggest threats.

It had come after a sluggish start for the top-order that saw none of David Warner, Glenn Maxwell and Marsh get past the 10-ball mark and leave anchoring opener Travis Head and their finishers with a ballooning required run-rate.

Tim David's icing of the chase with 24 off 14 and the winning six off the third-to-last ball of the game meant every member of Australia's top six has now made a substantial contribution to a win at this World Cup.

And although that came after stuttering moments in all three disciplines against Scotland, Starc pointedly dismissed suggestions the Aussies had considered manipulating the outcome to knock defending champions England out.

"A throwaway line's been blown right out of proportion by you lot," Starc said of remarks made by Josh Hazlewood earlier this week since claimed to have been made in jest.

"You don't stuff around with mother cricket and try to worry about other results. We're here to win games, it's international cricket. England now are on the other side of the draw so it really doesn't make that much difference for the next three games."

Dropping six catches off Scotland's bold top-order that allowed them to post their highest ever World Cup score were nonetheless a concern.

"We certainly were off the mark in the field with the dropped catches and probably some other areas that were a little bit sloppy as well," said Starc when asked if already being qualified had any bearing on their performance.

"So good to get that stuff out of the way now and now we're into the pointy end. It didn't feel different. It's still a World Cup game and we’re still playing for Australia so we're still trying to take wickets and win games."

Focusing on fumbles in the field and missteps with the bat in a dead-rubber match for Australia is ultimately nit-picking, however, with their prospects in reality appearing as bright as any of their competitors.

Marsh could be back bowling for their first Super Eights match in Antigua on Thursday (Friday morning AEST), with a successful training hit-out against batters in coming days expected to be the final step in medical staff clearing him.

The 32-year-old skipper also shrugged off a blow to his finger from one of the dropped chances that left him in some degree of pain.

Stoinis' strong returns with the ball means he will continue to get the lion's share of the auxiliary pace bowling load, but Marsh's availability with the ball will be crucial if Australia pull the trigger on a line-up that features Cameron Green batting as low as No.8.  

"It’s an option," said selection chief George Bailey. "One of the things that we’re big on, particularly in tournaments and World Cups, is having two or three styles of game that you can go to.

"That’s depending on the surface and the opponent. Mitch (Marsh) coming back online as a bowler over the next week or so is another piece to that puzzle potentially.

"Then just weighing up (if) you look to extend that batting line-up if it’s a good wicket (or) if it’s actually an ordinary wicket."

Crowd favourite Maxwell mic'd up at St Lucia clinic

The rest of the pace brigade appears in good shape too, with scans on Starc's left calf coming back clear having missed the win over Namibia as a precaution after the niggle first flared up when he suffered cramps in their tournament opener against Oman.

There were no fitness concerns over either Cummins or Hazlewood despite their absence on Saturday, while Nathan Ellis is now as match fit as any of them having played all but one of the four first-round games.

Both Ellis and Agar appear likely to fall out of the first-choice team, but Bailey insists there is so such thing as a "best XI" and suggested both will be in contention in the right conditions.

"Coming back to how we structure up two or three different ways … I certainly won’t be ruling Nathan Ellis out of that conversation," said Bailey.

"I think he’s got a fantastic skill-set. I think they (the bowlers) all work together really well. It’s a nice squad balance to have. It’s been really pleasing because I think we’ve gone to every selection meeting so far and there are genuinely 15 names on the table.

"It's going to be a challenge, this Super Eights (and finals) period of … playing and travelling the next day. Travel is not easy here. Prioritising that recovery in that day is going to be really important for everyone."

2024 ICC Men's T20 World Cup

Australia's squad: Mitch Marsh (c), Ashton Agar, Pat Cummins, Tim David, Nathan Ellis, Cameron Green, Josh Hazlewood, Travis Head, Josh Inglis, Glenn Maxwell, Mitchell Starc, Marcus Stoinis, Matthew Wade, David Warner, Adam Zampa

Australia's Group B fixtures

June 6: Beat Oman by 39 runs

June 9: Beat England by 36 runs

June 12: Beat Namibia by nine wickets

June 16: Beat Scotland by five wickets

Australia's Super Eight fixtures

21 June: v D2, Sir Vivian Richards Stadium, Antigua, 10.30am AEST

23 June: v Afghanistan, Arnos Vale Ground, St Vincent, 10.30am AEST

25 June: v India, Daren Sammy National Cricket Stadium, St Lucia, 12.30am AEST

Semi-finals to follow if Australia qualify

For the full list of fixtures click here. All matches live and exclusive on Prime Video. Sign up here for a 30-day free trial