Before Australia’s World Cup squad was announced I predicted my own squad, of 15 players who I thought were obvious picks, and 12 of them turned out to be right.
For reference, the differences were these:
ACTUAL SQUAD: Shaun Marsh, Alex Carey, Jason Behrendorff
MY SQUAD: Peter Handscomb, Ashton Turner, Matthew Wade
I know what you’re thinking: why am I replacing a wicket keeper with a batsman? Well, I’m not. I had one more batsman and one less fast bowler.
We have subsequently had Jhye Richardson get injured and be replaced by Kane Richardson (I had preferred Josh Hazlewood as my next fast bowler) and, mid-tournament, we now have Mitchell Marsh on standby for Marcus Stoinis (I had preferred just about anyone else. Perhaps Travis Head, D’Arcy Short, or Ashton Turner. Even Moises Henriques would be better. I’d really like James Faulkner, but he is out of favour with the selectors and is now something of a T20 professional).
So let’s analyse this now to see if I was right.
We saw what happened when Stoinis was injured, and the selectors decided to pick Shaun Marsh to replace him, mainly because there was no other choice. Stoinis is a basher while Shaun Marsh is a solid batsman. Stoinis bowls a bit while Shaun Marsh doesn’t bowl at all. So they dumped their only spinner, Adam Zampa, so that they could have the extra fast bowling option, and the 5th bowler, Glenn Maxwell, was smacked all around. So then they dumped Nathan Coulter-Nile, the fast bowling all-rounder, and replaced him with a fourth proper bowler, and now they are running out of steam when they are nearing the end of their batting innings, and still have a bad fifth bowler.
It’s not just a bad fifth bowler either – many media reports are saying that Australia has problems with their 3rd bowler – that it’s Starc and Cummins and then nothing.
Now, this wouldn’t have been as much of an issue had Jhye Richardson not been injured, or if they had picked Josh Hazlewood as his replacement, but that’s another issue entirely.
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So now let’s look at this situation but with my squad.
It’s the same first XI, but the backups differ.
So first match they have 10/11 the same. The only one I’d change is Matthew Wade instead of Alex Carey, and, on Carey’s form, maybe I was wrong about that one. Otherwise it’s the same.
Anyway so that’s not such a big deal, and then we get to Marcus Stoinis being injured. This is where the squad gets into big trouble.
They replaced Marcus Stoinis with Shaun Marsh, a basher who bowls a bit with a steady batsman who doesn’t bowl at all. This then forced their sole spinner to be left out so they could have an extra pace bowler.
Now let’s consider my squad. Stoinis is out so you’ve now got a choice of Peter Handscomb, a steady batsman who doesn’t bowl, or Ashton Turner, a basher who bowls a bit.
Now, Turner doesn’t bowl a lot, and has never bowled at international level, but in 39 first class matches he has bowled 26 times and taken 11 wickets with a best haul of 6/111. It’s not consistently good but it’s enough to be useful.
With Turner being a spinner they’d still bring in an extra pace bowler and would probably drop Zampa, but that extra pace bowler would have been Josh Hazlewood.
So the lineup would be:
You’ve got 3 frontline bowlers of some talent, then you’ve got Nathan Coulter-Nile as a decent 4th bowler, and then you get to Turner, who would perhaps share the bowling duties with Maxwell. While he isn’t bowling out a full 10 overs, he’s at least doing more than Shaun Marsh is.
With Matthew Wade in the squad, I’d have a powerful big-hitting batsman who I would be confident to put in at 6, and I’d put Turner behind him. We would have the power of knowing that we have a specialist batsman coming in at 7. We’d feel good about that.
Now let’s imagine that we want to keep Nathan Coulter-Nile out. That’s all right. Now we play James Pattinson, who not so long ago was Australia’s best all-format bowler. He’s back to full fitness now and, while he isn’t yet at the same standard as Starc, Cummins and Hazlewood, he isn’t far off it. Good enough to be the backup, and that line-up of Pattinson, Starc, Cummins and Hazlewood is going to be pretty terrifying.
In fact, with Pattinson’s batting skills, I’d consider not bothering with Nathan Coulter-Nile, not when we consider that Starc and Cummins are decent bats too. I’d even consider playing an extra bowler so that we didn’t have to worry about that 5th bowler, and I’d play either Zampa or Lyon and leave Turner out.
If Khawaja was losing form, I’d consider putting Peter Handscomb in.
The problem is that this squad of 15 doesn’t have the right balance. It’s not just that they prefer Behrendorff and Kane Richardson to Josh Hazlewood and James Pattinson that’s the problem, or that they prefer Shaun Marsh to Peter Handscomb, or Alex Carey to Matthew Wade. The issue is that they have the wrong makeup of the squad. Not the 11 – the 15 man squad is wrong. And bringing Mitchell Marsh in doesn’t help that.
If Shaun Marsh was there instead of Peter Handscomb, and we still kept a basher, such as Turner, there as the 2nd backup batsman, then that would be okay. It wouldn’t even matter if we had Chris Lynn instead of Turner, or Travis Head, or D’Arcy Short. The issue is that your two backup batsmen should be one solid batsman and one basher.
My squad wasn’t just a matter of 3 different names – it was a different balance, a better balance, and a balance that we are sorely missing now.
The English squad had the wrong balance so they got rid of the batsman Alex Hales and replaced him with the bowler Jofra Archer and now they have a better squad. Australia should have done the same thing.
When Jhye Richardson was ruled out through injury, they should have replaced him with a batsman. That was a perfect time to bring in a spare basher, like Ashton Turner, or perhaps Chris Lynn. That was a perfect time to fix up the team’s balance.
We can’t do a whole lot about it with Marcus Stoinis out injured because he was a right fit for the team balance. We can’t now send one of the fast bowlers home and pick an extra batsman.
Given that the spin bowlers aren’t being used, there is another option: either Zampa or perhaps Lyon can take one for the team, feign an injury, and bring a spare batsman in. That’s the only way to fix this now.
But, in saying that, we are, somehow, entrenched in the top four, with four wins and just the one loss to India. So perhaps we can worry about the squad then. Somehow or other, in spite of having a poorly balanced squad, we are still finding ways to win. We’d be doing even better if we had the right squad.