Australia will be entering the 2022 World Cup in New Zealand with a side which has the ability to register their name in the record books forever. In fact, their record is so good that one can only wonder why children have not been taught about them in schools already?
To put it into perspective, they have a win percentage of more than 90, giving them the tag of invincible for quite some time. Having said that, Australia are possibly the favorites to lift the trophy for the seventh time. But, there will be some hurdles along the way.
Depth in both departments
The recently concluded Ashes showed that Australia’s batting ended at no. 9 or no. 10, while their bowling begins with their no. 4 batter. Players such as Tahlia McGrath, Ellyse Perry, Ashleigh Gardner, Annabel Sutherland and Nicola Carey constitute what is a good enough set of allrounders, who are capable of changing the game with the ball and with the bat.
This further allows Meg Lanning to be flexible with her bowling combinations and also allows her side to have a great batting depth, without compromising with the bowling. Australia’s recent success in the ODI format can be explained with this depth in both departments, which has only increased with the coming-of-age of players such as McGrath and Sutherland.
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Settled core group of players
Despite trying out a number of options during the home summer of 2021-22, the Australian side has still stuck very much with their core players. Alyssa Healy opening the batting with Rachael Haynes, who has been a revelation in her own right, while the performances of Perry, Lanning and Beth Mooney have also been relevant, shaping up quite a strong middle-order.
Though Gardner will miss a first couple of matches in the mega-event after testing positive for Covid-19 on the eve of the tournament, she remains a vital cog in the wheel, which keeps the Australian team afloat. Then there is Jess Jonassen, who has averaged just a shade above 15, with more than 50 wickets since the last World Cup. Not to forget Megan Schutt, who has averaged around 18 in the same period.
Basically, most of the players who played a key role for Australia during their incredible run of 26 wins are still in this side, boosting their team’s chances even more.
Lack of specialist batters
They say there are always two sides to a coin. In the case of the Australian side, with their abundance of allrounders, there is also another side. Even though they are the No. 1 ranked ODI side in the world, they will enter the World Cup with only two specialist batters, i.e. Lanning and Haynes , if we keep their wicketkeeping option out of the conversation.
While this is not something the Australian team needed to stress upon in the past, it could be a problem in a month-long tournament. Already, Gardner will be missing the first couple of matches. Though Grace Harris is a like-for-like replacement, one can only wonder what could happen if a few more players went down with injuries or COVID.
One can argue that this isn’t really a weakness. But, that is just the kind of side Australia has built. It is really difficult to pinpoint a weakness in a side which has lost only two of their 33 matches in a period of almost five years. But, in a multi-team tournament, when they have to play back-to-back matches, any small opening in the middle order, which could be due to injury, can leave a big hole, given the fact that they will only be replaced by allrounders, who have experience of mostly batting lower down the order.
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To top off the amazing cycle with silverware
A win percentage of about 93.93%. The win-loss ratio suggests that Australia loses one in every 15.5 matches. Such dominance has hardly ever been witnessed in any sport, let alone cricket. Imagine not losing for 26 games. You can compare this team to any historic side in sport, Chicago Bulls, Brazilian football team of 1960s and 70s or to stay within the range of cricket, the Australian team in the late 1990s and 2000s.
Now, in each of these team’s cases, there is plenty of silverware. Lanning’s force also has a few. But not in ODIs. In 2017, they were blown away by Harmanpreet Kaur’s monstrous knock in the semi-final. That sparked a revolution and in many ways, this World Cup is their ‘final frontier.’ The train to the gloryland is about to leave, will they be able to catch it or will they be left behind once again?
A repeat of 2017 semi-final
When Harmanpreet Kaur was going berserk in Derby in that semi-final, Lanning and her team looked completely taken aback and found it really tough to get a break-in. And the biggest issue is that it wasn't a one-off. Chamari Athapaththu smashed unbeaten 178 against Australia earlier in the tournament. In both the cases, the batters remained not-out.
In the warm-up matches of the 2022 edition, Sophie Devine smashed an unbeaten 161, making a mockery of the runchase of 322 runs. New Zealand chased down the total in just 43 overs with the loss of only one wicket. Amelia Kerr and Suzie Bates too found their feet. This could easily happen again in a knockout game. If Australia can’t turn the tide, they might find it very hard to conquer their final frontier.