Put your hand up if you had Ireland above Australia in the Super 12 table after three rounds. Well, I don’t see many hands. I don’t see any, in fact.
But it’s been that kind of a T20 World Cup for the hosts, who were dubbed the favorites pre-tournament.
The Aussies started their T20WC defence with a hammering at the hands of New Zealand, but did well to bounce back against Sri Lanka, after a shaky start. They could properly have got their campaign back on track with a win against arch-rivals England but rain ensured that they exited MCG with a solitary point. One point lost or one point gained? Anybody’s guess.
The indifferent start, nevertheless, has pretty much taken Australia’s fate out of their own hands. The maximum they can get to is 7 points, but a three-way tie with any of the other teams will, in all likelihood, see them miss out, all thanks to their woeful net run rate. Realistically, Australia can only go through if they win each of their two remaining matches and if England goof up.
The prospect of England goofing up, of course, is not in Australia’s hands so the best they can do is win their next two matches, and do so handsomely. Essentially, win and wait.
The first of the two must-win games for the defending champs is against Ireland at the Gabba. Now, it’s easy to come to the presumption that Ireland is a game the Aussies will win, but if this World Cup has taught us anything, it’s that no game is ever won on paper.
We already brought up the fact of Ireland being above the Aussies in the table, and make no mistake, as things stand, they are as much a semi-final contender as Australia are. If anything, mathematically, they have a better chance of progressing to the next round thanks to their marginally superior net rate.
It all comes down to whether Ireland believe. Believe whether they can make the semis. Believe whether they are capable of taking down both Australia and New Zealand.
After what unfolded at the MCG last week, they just might.
Powerplay key for Ireland - with both bat and ball
If Ireland are to register the biggest win of their cricketing history, they’ll have to dominate the powerplay - with both bat and ball. Essentially, do a repeat of what they achieved against England.
It sounds tough, but the Irishmen actually can realistically nail it.
Let’s first look at the batting front.
We know that Ireland went a long way in beating England by absolutely pummeling the Three Lions’ bowlers in the first six overs, smashing 59 runs. Stirling, Balbirnie and Tucker were outstanding. Can they practically aim to replicate the same?
The numbers tell us that YES they can.
The Aussies have been pretty average with the ball in the first six since the start of the India series in September, averaging 34 while leaking runs at an ER of 8.5.
In other words, they have, on average, conceded 51 runs in the first six overs across their last 10 T20Is. They do tend to get rattled at times and one of the instances came in the opening match of the Super 12 stage, where they were taken apart by Finn Allen’s blitz.
Against both West Indies (64/0) and England (59/1), Ireland took the attack to the bowlers from the get go, and that is precisely what they should aim to do come Monday. In a way, they have no other option.
With the ball, too, they’ll go a long way in beating the Aussies by jolting them up-front.
How about this for a stat? Australia have lost 2 or more wickets in the powerplay this year in T20Is 9 times, and in those games, they’ve gone on to win just thrice.
The Aussies rely so much on their top three to do the run scoring that, when they lose quick wickets, they often tend to lose their way.
We know the likes of Mark Adair, Barry McCarthy and newbie Fionn Hand can all move the ball a fair bit, but Josh Little could be Balbirnie’s trump card on Monday.
Among Super 12 sides, Australia are by far the worst side against left-arm seam, averaging a shocking 16.4 since 2021.
In the past 18 months alone, their Top 4 batters, among them, have been dismissed a total of 14 times by left-arm seamers.
Little led Ireland’s charge against England by removing Buttler in the very first over, and if he could do something similar against Australia by removing Warner, you just never know what might unfold.
Zampa and Maxwell will be key for Australia
Australia, on paper, have a pace attack that has the ability to intimidate any batting unit in the world, but it will by no means be an overstatement to claim that, come Monday, their spinners hold the key.
For Ireland have been hysterically poor against spin bowling in the past 18 months in the shortest format. Since the start of 2021, Ireland have averaged a mere 18.6 against spin — this is the lowest figure among all the sides currently in the Super 12.
Breaking down their struggles further, the Irish batters, remarkably, have averaged just 13.4 against off-spin in the said period, despite their batting unit consisting exclusively of right-handers. Their record against leg-spin is no better — an average of 18.00, losing a wicket every 15.4 balls.
In this World Cup, there has been a marked difference in their numbers versus spin compared to how they’ve fared against pace. While they’ve averaged 27.9 and struck at 137.8 versus the seamers, their subsequent numbers against spin has been very poor: an average of 19.6 and SR of 121.4.
Even in the clash against England, it was spin that proved to be their Achilles heel. Between them, Livingstone and Rashid finished with figures of 3/41 off 7 overs; in contrast, Woakes, Wood and Curran conceded 106 off the 10 overs they bowled.
Zampa and Maxwell, therefore, could pose significant trouble to the Irish batters. Maxwell has only bowled one over all tournament, but don’t be surprised if he ends up bowling three or more on Monday.
Australia: David Warner, Aaron Finch (c), Mitchell Marsh, Glenn Maxwell, Marcus Stoinis, Tim David, Matthew Wade (wk), Pat Cummins, Ashton Agar, Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood
Ireland: Paul Stirling, Andrew Balbirnie (c), Lorcan Tucker (wk), Harry Tector, Curtis Campher, George Dockrell, Gareth Delany, Mark Adair, Fionn Hand, Barry McCarthy, Joshua Little