Things are falling in place finally. Australia are renowned to step up their game in a World Cup. Except that does not happen in T20 cricket. They are not known as a great T20 side. Heading into this World Cup, they had a win percentage of only 26.6 this year. They were hammered in their previous five T20I series.
It was easy to disregard them for this World Cup. In a Super 12 group stacked with six Test playing nations, it was a convenient. You cannot really blame the viewers for downplaying a team that huffed their way to a subpar target of 119 in the first match of their campaign.
On Thursday night (October 28), Australia shrugged all those beliefs in a perfect game. “That was a really good performance,” concluded skipper Aaron Finch after Australia’s seven-wicket win which has become a bit of an anomaly in Australian cricket this year. A frown has nearly settled as a natural expression on the coach Justin Langer’s face but even he couldn’t stop smiling through the course of Australia’s run chase. The result affirmed that things are falling in place.
The Starc effect and zestful Zampa
When put against their batting, bowling has inarguably been Australia’s stronger suit in T20 cricket of late. It was a clinical bowling show against South Africa that helped them clinch two points despite an ordinary outing with the bat. Against Sri Lanka, Finch once again put the opposition in to bat.
Australia reeled under a counterattack in the Powerplay but the fact that they could absorb the pressure to render a come back only adds shine to this win. From 75 for 1 in 9 overs, Sri Lanka were pulled down to 95 for 5 in the course of next four overs. There was a wicket every over.
Mitchell Starc bowled two overs in the middle phase only for the second time in his 43-match long T20I career. He launched a missile-like yorker to avenge an 82-metre six on the previous ball. His spell of 2 for 14 makes Australia believe that Starc can be used in the middle-overs when required.
But a more rousing impact was caused by Adam Zampa. He is not quite Shane Warne but he is the next best thing Australia ever had. An underrated operator, Zampa binds Australia’s pace heavy attack together. The spell of 2 for 12 in four overs presented another such instance.
“On the back of a really good Powerplay from Sri Lanka, the way that he [Zampa] controlled the game, especially from the end where the right-handers had a short boundary to hit to, he was fantastic. He got big wickets,” said Finch after the match. His spell sucked all the momentum Sri Lanka built in the Powerplay.
The openers back at it
A side that has its openers firing is invariably in a good position irrespective of the format. In T20 cricket, it minimizes the pressure off the rest by several multiples.
Aaron Finch (37 off 23) and David Warner (65 off 42) brushed aside their poor form, adding 70 off 42 balls for the first wicket. Knowing Sri Lankan spinners can be tricky to counter, the duo took on the pacers, feeding Australia with a head start.
A big part of Australia’s batting worries this year has been the returns from their opening pair, with the duo being struggling in international cricket.
The 70-run stand is their highest in the last 10 T20Is where Australia had 4, 3, 3, 8, 13, 0, 9, 12 and 41 runs on board at the fall of the first wicket. Finch and Warner doing their thing together solve half their problems. No wonder the smirk on Langer’s face initiated when these two unfurled themselves.
"I actually think people talking about my form is quite funny," said Warner on the eve of the match.
We have seen him do this time and again but it happened after so long that Warner’s assertive strokeplay felt like a breath of fresh air. He looked in good touch during his brief stay against South Africa. In this innings, the moment he swatted Lahiru Kumara straight past him in the fourth over, it was confirmed that Warner is indeed back. Alongside scoring 156.3 in the Powerplay, the southpaw motored along at 153.9 during the middle-overs. That is what makes him a dangerous opener at his best - the ability to hit gaps when the field is spread. He also runs like a cheetah.
Warner had a stroke of luck when Kusal Perera dropped a sitter. He was 18 off 10 balls. It was the biggest miss for Sri Lanka. Warner’s presence ensured Australia don’t panic when they lost Finch and Glenn Maxwell in quick succession. When he got out, the required run-rate was down to 5 with five overs in hand. Warner’s return to his authoritative best is the biggest takeaway for Australia from this game.
Besides doing many things right themselves, Australia also enjoyed the best of the conditions. Playing on a new surface, the pitch was more conducive to power hitting than other surfaces seen at the Dubai International Cricket Stadium. For Australia, it was akin to playing at home where they pasted Sri Lanka 3-0 in 2019. It knocked out the potential effect of the Sri Lankan spinners. This underlines the significance of Zampa’s spell. The leg-spinner, however, felt the dew also played its part.
“I think it was quite slow in the first innings and spun a bit more than it did in the second innings. I think the moisture and dew took effect,” explained Zampa while receiving his Player of the Match award.
Hence, the toss also played a major part. Nine of the 10 Super 12 games thus far have been won by the side chasing. The coin might not always land in Finch’s favor and the conditions will not favor Australia every time in the gulf nation. But David Warner at his beast-self can cover most conditions. There are little questions about their bowling. They won without a major contribution from Maxwell which is a major breakthrough. Long story short, winning both their Super 12 matches thus far, Australia is back in contention.