Throughout their campaign, the Aussies have not looked convincing.
Despite winning eight straight and advancing to a World Cup Final, they struggled to put together a complete performance against quality opposition in the group stages.
Their first two games were woeful. Batting first against India in their opening game, no one played a completed innings. David Warner, Steve Smith and Marnus Labuschagne all had starts, but were unable to get Australia going as they crumbled to 199. The opening two overs of India’s innings provided a glimmer of hope in the form of Australia getting out of jail, but a 164-run partnership between Virat Kohli and KL Rahul squashed any life out of the visitors.
South Africa almost made Australia look like a C-grade side in their second group game as the bowling partnership of Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazlewood seemed to fizzle out – a recurring theme for the Aussies throughout the group stages. Glenn Maxwell however bowled some respectable overs in the middle to hold the score under 350. Besides Labuschagne and maybe Smith, no one managed to even produce a start as the Aussies crumbled to all out for 177.
As the tournament progressed, wins against Sri Lanka, Pakistan and the Netherlands boosted their confidence, but there were still dints in their armour that needed fixing. However, although the team struggled to function as a whole, individual players were stepping up and getting them over the line.
Warner and Marsh put on an opening stand of 259 against Pakistan, as the five-time champions made 9/367 from 50 overs. Despite the big score, it could have been greater as they lost 5/42 after Warner’s dismissal. Pakistan nearly chased down the total, but some crucial wickets to Adam Zampa and Marcus Stoinis helped secure the win.
The Netherlands game was a diamond in the rough for the Australians as the Dutch never looked likely. Glenn Maxwell and David Warner made centuries as Smith and Labuschagne had stellar knocks too. Adam Zampa ripped through the tail order to dismiss their opposition for 90, winning by 309 runs.
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Australia put together a much-improved batting performance against a tournament favourite when they faced New Zealand. The middle order did their part to stroll the innings along as Josh Inglis and Pat Cummins put together a partnership of 62 off 22 balls. With Cummins still at the crease and Starc coming in, there was opportunity for the Aussies to make 400, but instead they lost 3/1 to be bowled out for 388. Those missed opportunities nearly cost Australia the game as a more-consistent innings from New Zealand had them in the balance, but a crucial run out to send Jimmy Neesham back to the pavilion decided the game.
With Maxwell out of the side for the England game, there were plenty of starts, but Labuschagne was the only player who could get something going. 71 off 83 helped steady the Aussies to 286 which was nearly not enough. Despite two early wickets, England kept in the fight, but another superb spell from Zampa gave the Australians the win.
In games that many expected to win comfortably, the finalists were challenged by two lower-ranked countries. Ibrahim Zadran became the first Afghani player to hit a century at a World Cup as Afghanistan made 5/291 from their 50 overs. With their finals hopes in jeopardy, Australia were 7/91 in reply. It took inhumane heroics from Glenn Maxwell to dig the Aussies out of a huge hole, as he scored an unbeaten double-century to claim victory.
Their final group game saw the Australians gift Bangladesh with their only score above 300 for the tournament. Luckily, a powerful 177 from Mitch Marsh steer the Aussies home, two wickets down.
If this tournament has told us anything about Australia, it’s that they are winning ugly. As a collective, their batting has been subpar, but individual performances from the likes of Maxwell and Marsh have guided their team to victory.
Their bowling has been even worse, with the exception of Zampa. Now second in wickets for the tournament, Zampa has ripped through middle orders, saving Australia from pure embarrassment. During the group stage, the Australians had a hard time taking enough early wickets. They might have had England 2/19 or India 3/2, but they have failed to capitalise on these starts. Except for the Netherlands game, they did not take their fourth wicket of any innings in the group stages for under 100.
Hopefully yesterday was a turn in the tide. The opening bowling partnership of Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazlewood finally stood up in tandem as the Aussies had South Africa 4/24 from 12 overs. David Miller produced a stellar knock for the Proteas, but Australia still found ways to get wickets around him through Travis Head and Pat Cummins. Their batting was under fire once again as the middle order could not seem to get going, but Starc and Cummins fought it out to send the Aussies into the final.
For Australia to even get remotely close on Sunday night, they need to finally put everything together. There have been glimpses of Australia’s best cricket, but not in the same game. It will take a team effort to get past the Indian juggernaut. Undefeated throughout the competition, they have dismantled oppositions with the bat as their top five batters are among the leading 25 run scorers of the tournament.
They have done wonders with the ball as well with all five of their lead bowlers taking 13 wickets or more for the tournament. Most notably, Mohammed Shami is leading the wicket tally only playing six matches.
Australia must take early wickets on Sunday night. While they had India at 3/2 in the group stage, Kohli and Rahul rescued the Indians. This means Starc and Hazlewood must be on top of their game. Starc has been inconsistent of recent times, leaking a lot of runs, but he was at his best last night, with 3/34 from his 10 overs.
With the bat, Australia have to bat deep. Although the pressure will be shouldered onto Glenn Maxwell, the players around him either need to hang around, or make some runs. If it comes down to Maxwell needing a mammoth knock like the Afghanistan one, then Australia has no chance. Unlike Afghanistan, India has the experience of closing out games when their opposition is on the ropes.
If the Aussies can hold up their end of the bargain, then it will be a World Cup final for the ages.