From the Weekend Australian, 12/13 March 2016
Coach Darren Lehmann has no doubt what it will take for Australia to claim a maiden World Twenty20 title and much of it comes down to composure. “The team that comes out on top in India is going to be the one that makes the least mistakes and is most confident in those high-pressure situations in tight games,” Lehmann says. The tournament may lack the prestige of its 50-over counterpart but few cricket competitions are quite as abruptly punishing. The abridged nature of T20 means there is a greater chance that a single error will decide a match. And the structure of the tournament, being hosted by India this month, means one loss could be enough to crush a side’s hopes of reaching the semi-finals.
“You’re punished more for poor performance but that’s the way it is,” says Lehmann. “If you lose the first game you can still progress but you’re on edge straight away. I think they’ll start to expand the T20 World Cup. In 2020, instead of the cut-throat format you might have five or six pool games and it’ll last a bit longer. But right now every team is in the same boat. Last time you needed three wins to get through your group.”
In 2014, the most recent edition of the tournament, Australia managed a single victory — over hosts Bangladesh. It was their fifth failed attempt to win the T20 event, which has grown in prominence since its launch in 2007. Lehmann has only been in charge for one of those campaigns but the losing streak irks. “World Cups are important, we know that. We haven’t won it, that’s because we have made mistakes at certain times,” Lehmann said. “Cricket Australia want us to play well in the T20 format. The players also want to play well.
Australia face New Zealand, Pakistan and India in the group phase plus one of the teams from the qualifying event. Only two will progress from the pool. Sporadic scheduling means it is hard to build a meaningful T20 formguide as Australia prepare to launch their campaign against New Zealand in mountainous Dharamsala next Friday.
Pundits, players and punters largely agree that India are firm favourites to lift the trophy in Kolkata on April 3. Beyond that it’s very much unclear. Australia were thumped 3-0 in a T20 series by MS Dhoni’s men earlier this year, but that squad was significantly different to the 15-man touring party that is in India for the World T20. A recent 2-1 series win over South Africa, featuring Australia’s highest-ever successful T20 chase, was more promising for Lehmann.
Lehmann and on-duty selector Mark Waugh would have found it just as useful as their players. Deciding which two openers to pick out of Shane Watson, Aaron Finch and Usman Khawaja is one of few headaches left for the selectors. Otherwise the best XI is more or less settled. Legspinner Adam Zampa bowled with great control and economy in South Africa, confirming he will be the side’s frontline tweaker. Every batsman in the squad had at least one decent knock against the Proteas. Perhaps most notably, Steve Smith’s side scored freely off Imran Tahir in clashes at Johannesburg and Cape Town after the legspinner tied them down in Durban. Much has been made of the threat of spin at the upcoming tournament.
“Spin bowling is going to be a big challenge for us,” Watson, player of the tournament at the 2010 World T20, observed during the recent series in South Africa. Especially playing against subcontinent teams. They’re going to hit us hard with spin.” Lehmann agreed. “But spinners play their part in all T20 matches, so do pacemen,” he said. “The thing is they’re going to be pretty good T20 wickets. We’re not out there saying it’s going to be slow and low.”
The squad boasts a stack of Indian Premier League experience and know what to expect from the pitches. The same can’t be said of T20 experience; Australia have played just 11 T20 matches since the previous World T20 in 2014.
“How do we fit it in? That’s the hardest thing,” Lehmann said. “The schedule makes it incredibly hard to fit it all in.” It leaves Lehmann with a lot to do in a short time, much like Smith and his colleagues this month in India.
Lehmann flagged the prospect of David Warner opening again. Warner’s demotion in the batting order was a great success in the three-match T20 series in South Africa. The vice-captain was named man of the series, having totalled 130 runs in his new middle-order role. Lehmann was suitably impressed with Warner’s form at No 4. “But he could open in the first game. You don’t know, it just depends on the match-ups and what we like at the time,” Lehmann says. “It was really nice to see him make runs in the middle but no (it’s not locked in). We’re going to be pretty versatile at this tournament. I think that’s one of our advantages, we have batsmen that can float and move (up and down the order).”
AN OLDER VIEW: AAP: Aussies look to turn around T20 history, 31 August 2015
It’s a curious record for a nation who have spent time as the top-ranked Test and one-day team in recent years, won the one-day World Cup in February and have some of the most-recognisable Indian Premier League stars on the planet.
Quick single: Stoinis to make international debut
It doesn’t sit well with Australia’s new captain and vice-captain, who are eyeing the World T20 in India in March as an opportune time to end their drought.Smith and Warner believe a lack of time spent focused on cricket’s shortest format has cruelled Australia’s chances in the past, but feel that approach is shifting – as evidenced by legspinner Cameron Boyce’s inclusion as a T20 specialist on this tour.
The talented tweaker made the trip purely for Monday’s one-off clash with England in Cardiff, and will then sit out the five-match ODI series to follow.
“Leading into the World Cup for the one-dayers for example, we had a team that didn’t really change as much and you do almost play the same team in the Twenty20s,” Warner said. “But you’re together for a lengthy period of time (with the ODI squad, whereas) we play one T20 every blue moon in Australia. It’s quite challenging for us to go into a group and go ‘here you go, play this tournament’. It is very hard.”
Quick single: All eyes on Boyce in standalone T20
Warner points to Boyce’s selection as a shift in thinking which will serve Australia well at the World T20. “(Monday’s match) is big because, sometimes in the past, we’ve played one-day series with one or two Twenty20s before or after, and it’s just been the one-day team (playing the T20 fixtures),” he said.
“We’re in a fortunate enough position now where the selectors are actually picking Twenty20 players. And they’re picking the right team to move forward.
“It’s great to have a bunch of players that can actually hang around each other and feel the game for each other.”
Australia’s T20 stocks have never been stronger, with Smith and Warner both among the game’s leading lights in the format – while Shane Watson, Glenn Maxwell and the injured Aaron Finch – who is the T20 XI’s usual skipper – are all huge names in the IPL.
Smith is confident playing on foreign soil won’t be a problem. “A lot of the guys that are probably going to be in the squad for that World Cup have played a lot of IPL cricket and cricket in India and adapted to those conditions so there’s no reason why we can’t win that tournament,” he said.
Quick single: Finch remains T20 captain: Smith
In addition to the selection of Boyce, young allrounder Marcus Stoinis has been named to make his debut on Monday. Stoinis, a powerful striker of the ball who is comfortable at the top of the order, will bat at six at the expense of opener Joe Burns, who made his ODI debut against Ireland and is being considered for the Test opening role vacated by Chris Rogers.
Australia: David Warner, Shane Watson, Steve Smith (capt), Glenn Maxwell, Mitch Marsh, Marcus Stoinis, Matthew Wade, Nathan Coulter-Nile, Mitchell Starc, Pat Cummins, Cameron Boyce.