A fatal error, a cricket heist... and three other ways Australia's World Cup defense fell apart

A fatal error, a cricket heist… and three other ways Australia’s World Cup defense fell apart

The Men’s T20 World Cup is still without a winner after Australia’s limping title defense came to a merciful end on Saturday.

In fact, Australia were on the back foot from the first campaign and never fully recovered.

Now it’s time to sift through the wreckage of Australia’s World Cup to find out exactly where and how it all went so wrong just a year after it went so well.

Here we look at five problems that have destroyed Australia.

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PREPARATION

With Australia on the brink of exiting the World Cup, Glenn Maxwell said it “means nothing”.

“You can’t dwell on it. I think you are moving very quickly,” he said.

The optics of such a claim are bad. Defending the World Cup on home soil has been heralded as one of the biggest occasions of the group’s white-ball career.

How could they suddenly care?

However, Maxwell’s statement was more of a commentary on the saturated cricket schedule and how its grueling demands were draining the players.

Australia are still involved in a bilateral series a week before their first World Cup match, with the next just four days after the final.

Cricket really does move at breakneck speed and no one knows that better than Australia.

Australia already had a plan in place before Mitchell Starc hit the wicket at the SCG two weeks ago.

Between 28 August and the first match, Australia played three ODIs against Zimbabwe, three against New Zealand, three T20s in India, two T20s at home against the West Indies, another three against England and a warm-up T20 against India.

That’s 15 white-ball matches in just over a month, overwhelmingly featuring Australia’s best T20 team.

And even with an early departure, they still don’t have time to catch their breath.

By the time the tournament started, Australia was on the boil.Source: Getty Images

This is not necessarily about Australia shooting themselves in the foot, like all nations they are at the mercy of the ICC schedule and have to play series within certain time frames.

But few teams have been busier since the end of August than Australia. Only Pakistan have played more matches (22) — and it’s worth noting that Babar Azam’s side are also expected to go out in the group.

Needless to say, Australia’s preparation was far from ideal and prevented them from peaking when needed.

FIRST FOUR CROSSING

Within 24 deliveries, Australia’s pre-tournament fatigue showed and the tone was set.

At no point in the group stage was it clearer that the Aussies were spent and the others were ready than in the first four games against New Zealand at the SCG.

New Zealand were 0-56 after four overs as the Australian attack creaked for 10 boundaries.

Aaron Finch went through four different bowlers but kept up the pace to the delight of Finn Allen and Devon Conway.

It proved to be a fatal mistake as New Zealand immediately took the game away from Australia.

It also relied too much on pre-match plans. Glenn Maxwell was banned from bowling to Conway, a powerful spinner, and ended up unbeaten in the match.

Meanwhile, the Kiwis happily went on to post 3-200, which remains the second-highest total of the tournament.

The Black Caps looked like a unit that was energized and executed their plan to perfection, while Australia looked like they had the wind knocked out of them.

It left Australia an uphill battle throughout the tournament.

New Zealand’s Finn Allen crushed Australia early – and the tone was set.Source: AFP

THAT ENGLAND WAS WASH OUT

Although Australia were not good enough at this World Cup, it should be noted that they were robbed of the only opportunity they had to put things right.

If Australia had the chance to play England at the MCG they could win, knock out their old rival and we’d be talking about a possible back-to-back world champion.

Instead, the game was washed out and England beat New Zealand, forcing Australia to overcome a mountain of clean runs that proved too steep to climb (more on that later).

How this MCG blockbuster would have turned out, we’ll never know. Which is a shame, because either way it would have given a better insight into Australia’s overall performance.

If Australia lost, at least they would know they simply didn’t deserve to progress. Should they win, they would be as deserving of a crack at the semi-finals as one of the world’s best T20 outfits.

Instead, we find ourselves here delivering harsh truths for a team that actually had the same number of points as both New Zealand and England.

However, in a short competition and in a group where only two of six nations progress, the risks are known and Australia have already let themselves be exposed.

An Australia-England blockbuster at the MCG may have changed everything.Source: AFP

LACK OF NATIONALITY

Australia knew they would probably have to win their last two matches by a wide margin to erase their massive 89-run defeat to New Zealand and more.

It was not an unfamiliar situation for Australia, who also suffered a heavy defeat in 2021, but were on a clean sweep after big wins against Bangladesh and the West Indies.

With Australia’s last two games against Ireland and Afghanistan, a repeat comeback was considered a possibility.

Then it looked like it might be a reality after Australia took 5-179 against Ireland and then took 5-25 in four overs.

A 100-run win looked on the cards – until Australia took their foot off the gas and Ireland rescued a respectable score.

Ireland somehow made 137. Still a big win for Australia, but nowhere near big enough.

This lack of ruthlessness showed again against Afghanistan.

Australia looked set to post a big total with the bat but made only 25 runs from the last four overs to settle for 8-168.

Australia needed at least double what Afghanistan produced. Afghanistan scored 51 runs from the last four overs to come within four runs of Australia’s total.

Australia just weren’t ruthless enough and allowed both Ireland and Afghanistan to dominate too many overs.

As England eventually bowled out Sri Lanka with two balls to spare, Australia could have gone through had they gone through with these orders.

Rashid Khan dominated at the back against Australia.Source: Getty Images

CHOICE

In truth, Australia’s selection was largely spot on.

Dropping Steve Smith for Tim David to have a more explosive top-six was widely supported before the tournament. Some have suddenly pointed to Smith’s omission as the answer to Australia’s slow start, but it is hard to see how his inclusion would have halted the 89-run loss to New Zealand or taken Sri Lanka’s total in the game two faster than Marcus Stoinis.

Finch’s place was under threat, but Cameron Green’s three catches in the final two-ball match were evidence that replacing him midway through the tournament was not a no-brainer.

The only baffling selection call of the entire group stage came at the end when Kane Richardson was selected over Starc.

Richardson went for 12 runs, notably in the 18th through the Afghan chase, escaping 16.

It was ironic as the Australian coaching staff later explained his selection as a choice based on his death bowling.

Mitchell Starc’s absence against Afghanistan has raised eyebrows.Source: Getty Images

Starc could also have been expensive, but it feels like a risk Australia simply had to take in the circumstances.

No Australian bowler has a better history of taking early wickets than Starc.

Australia knew they would probably have to bowl Afghanistan out for less than 100, but they made the mistake of focusing on economy rather than wickets.

Damien Fleming described the decision as “confused”, while former World Cup winner Michael Clarke was impressed.

“There’s absolutely no way we’re going to leave him out of tonight’s game,” Clarke said.

“If anyone wants to break through the Afghan batting, it’s Mitchell Starc. Left arm if it turns with the new ball and then we saw his yorkers at the death.

“I do not get it.”

Few people seem to do this.

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