Like all Australians, my proudest day was back on October 5 in 2009. It was the day when Australia proudly sported their white jackets as the victors of the most important prize in cricket, the Champion’s Trophy. That victory was enough to wipe clear any memories of getting smashed in India, losing at home for the first time since Dakota Fanning was born – beaten by South Africa – or handing back the Ashes to England.
In fact, no matter how poor Australia could be in Test Matches, they have managed to stay on top of the ICC ODI table. Not that it means much as MS Dhoni lifted the World Cup. But the point is, they were still pretty good.
Now, they’re not.
The current Australian ODI team has no No.3. They struggle to score against spin bowling. And their batting depth is even concerning the chairman of selectors. In this series, England have highlighted all of these problems with Australia. England have often struggled in limited-overs cricket, but with a near Test team, two white balls and a team that can run through any non subcontinental walls, they have smashed Australia so far in this series.
Eoin Morgan brought out the hammer against the Australian bowlers at Lord’s. Up until that point the Aussies had looked ok, not great ok, but ok ok, and they’d kept England down. Then Morgan hit the ball where he wanted and Australia had no answer.
In their chase, their lack of batting depth could not have been more evident by the fact that Steve Smith was batting at No.6, after not bowling. There were times when Australia found themselves in good positions, but with George Bailey chopping on to a limping James Anderson, David Hussey getting bounced out and Smith nicking behind lamely, they never quite got there.
At The Oval, Australia’s No.3 was Peter Forrest after George Bailey batted there at Lord’s. He made 12 off 30. Forrest doesn’t look like a natural No.3 ODI player. He has the ability to make big innings, but he doesn’t stamp himself on a match, and the fact that both he and Bailey have been there show that Australia are unsure as to who their No.3 is.
When Bailey did come in, he scored a half-century. But he, and several other Australian batsmen, just couldn’t get Graeme Swann away. Australia lost all momentum, and the chance to put a winning total on the board, Swann went for 3.37 an over. It seemed like midwicket was an industrial vacuum. It wasn’t just Bailey who struggled, and it isn’t the first time Australian batsmen have struggled to get the ball to the sweepers.
Some of these problems are not new, some are systemic, others have been exaggerated against England, and none have been helped by retirements of missing members. But Australia’s claim, however tenuous, on the No.1 ICC ranking, may disappear very shortly. Australia are clearly no longer a top class ODI team. And they will have to rebuild their ODI side much like they have with their Test team. Sadly for them, the next time the white jackets of the Champion’s Trophy are handed out, Australia will probably not be wearing them.