The fitness of key batters Steve Smith and Glenn Maxwell when they join the Australian ODI squad in India has become more crucial after a trio of batting collapses created a problem coach Andrew McDonald needs to solve ahead of the World Cup.
Smith returned to the nets in Australia last week as he overcomes a wrist injury suffered during the Ashes, and Maxwell, who hurt his ankle before the T20s in South Africa, is set to join the squad for three matches in India as part of a heavy lead-in to the tournament that begins on October 5.
Their arrival comes after the Australians were walloped in the final three ODIs against the Proteas, losing by margins of 111 runs at Potchefstroom, 164 runs at Centurion and 122 runs in the final match at the Wanderers.
Having to chase totals in each match, the Australians fell apart each time after early batting onslaughts, losing 8-60, 5-67 and 8-69, with late-call up Marnus Labuschagne (283 runs for the series), opener David Warner (206) and injured Travis Head (152 in four games) the only batters to shine.
Alex Carey scored 99 in game four but just 23 runs combined in the four other matches, with World Cup bound all-rounders Marcus Stoinis and Cameron Green managing just 43 runs in three innings and 18 in two respectively, albeit Green’s first innings was interrupted when he retired hurt with concussion.
McDonald said the Aussies wanted to maintain their plan of going hard through the first 15 overs of ODI games, which could now be via Warner and Mitch Marsh as an opening pair in Head’s absence.
But the coach said it was a “balance” that had to be tempered pending the conditions in India, which loom as much different to South Africa.
“You always have to strike that balance over the 50 overs … we have to temper that, assess the conditions through those middle overs. We can‘t afford to expose our middle-order hitters,” McDonald said after the final loss.
“We can’t afford to expose our lower-order hitters at six and seven where we do have some power down there, too early,” McDonald said.
“That happened a bit too often in this series. It‘s something we need to tighten up on.
“We’ve got some personnel who will come back and assist in that space, but you can’t win too many games of cricket if you’re getting exposed four, five down before the halfway mark of the innings.
“That’s a key area of improvement but the positive is we are putting attacks under pressure at the top of the order which can no doubt disrupt the opponent and gives us an opportunity to pull it back through the middle overs.”
Marsh, who stood in as captain for the five ODIs and three T20s, said a recent ODI series win over India in March gave him confidence that the Australians had the game plan, and personnel, to win the World Cup.
But he too conceded losing wickets in clumps was a recipe for disaster.
“Six months ago we won a series in India which is hard to do, so we still take a lot of confidence in to the World Cup,” he said.
“I wouldn’t say we are worried about (the collapses). You look at the history of one-day cricket, you need partnerships to set totals or to chase them. That’s a simple, key marker for us to improve and it comes down to all of our batters getting it done.
“We’ve still go five games to go until it starts, so plenty of time to touch-up the areas we need to improve on. But I still think there are plenty of positives to come out of this tour.”
AUSSIE RUN SCORERS IN SOUTH AFRICA
Marnus Labuschagne – 283 runs (5 innings)
David Warner – 206 (5)
Travis Head – 152 (4)
Mitch Marsh – 123 (5)
Alex Carey – 122 (5)
Josh Inglis – 51 (3)
Marcus Stoinis – 45 (3)
Cameron Green – 18 (2)
Originally published as Batting collapses mar three straight losses to South Africa