Cricket News By TODAYLIVESCORE.INFO - Australia find their smile again. Finch and Co will take confidence from the fact that an Australian team that finds a way to win despite not looking at its best is at its most dangerous in a World Cup format
Finch and Co will take confidence from the fact that an Australian team that finds a way to win despite not looking at its best is at its most dangerous in a World Cup format
Perhaps Glenn Maxwell was just playing along. It didn't look like Justin Langer, despite his martial arts pedigree, had smacked the all-rounder's arm hard enough for him to lose balance. Maxwell's slightly exaggerated reaction, sinking into his seat in the dug-out, however, added the right dose of drama to an already significant event in the match. It also amplified his coach's sense of relief and excitement in that moment.
Langer's open-handed chop on Maxwell's right bicep came right after Marcus Stoinis had smacked a full ball from Dwaine Pretorius back down the ground for a boundary off the second ball in the final over. It had meant Australia were now only 2 runs away from victory in their T20 WC opener. It also meant the Aussies could breathe again.
The Australian dug-out had spent most of Saturday (October 23) afternoon at the Sheikh Zayed Stadium oscillating between being anxious and looking nervous. Nobody had encapsulated it better than Langer through his facial expressions. There had been a few passing smiles, when Steve Smith and Maxwell were at the crease, and a few sheepish ones, once the experienced duo had been dismissed in the space of four deliveries. But now, Langer finally looked happy. And a couple of balls later, he sported the widest grin we've seen from him this year, as Stoinis hit another boundary to close the match out. For good measure, the first thing Langer did was to help Maxwell back to his feet as the two embraced.
In that exact moment, Australian cricket had found its smile back. Langer was just the one showcasing it. It was the first time in many months that their full-fledged team had taken the field all at once. It was the first time in many months that the Australian team had got a reason to look so pleased with themselves. And rightfully so. That they ended up stretching a run-chase, that otherwise seemed pretty straightforward, into the final over against an inspired South Africa only added to it.
On the back of all the negativity that's surrounded Australian cricket during 2021, the men's team in particular, this was a win they needed desperately. It's not often that you can keep the context of a result aside when it comes to professional sport. More so when it's a World Cup we're talking about. But perhaps we could do that on this occasion, even if only temporarily.
For, it doesn't matter if Australia's 5-wicket win over the Proteas was a glimpse into their transformation as a T20I side or a sign of them progressing into the final week of the tournament. In that moment, it was something that Australian cricket and their followers could finally feel good about. Maybe even get them to start believing in Aaron Finch and his team again. While it's been a tough few months, courtesy all the alleged unpleasantness behind the scenes, it hasn't helped that the team hasn't played enough. But seeing a healthy Australian team showing some fight and grit to get over the line in a tricky run-chase, was perhaps the best start those who back them could have hoped for.
In some ways, it was not a bad thing that Australia stuttered and stumbled to victory. It just made the release of emotions matter that much more. It may have brought to the fore, a few issues that have dogged their progress in T20I cricket. But it also did accentuate what they'd been missing out on.
It started with a brave selection call, even if picking one of the best pace attacks in world cricket might not seem so in normal circumstances. There had been a lot of talk with the Aussies playing two specialist spinners, which has been a norm across teams in the UAE. But Langer and Finch instead decided to go in for the first-time ever in their T20I history with all three of Mitchell Starc, Pat Cummins and Josh Hazlewood. Led by Hazlewood, it's safe to say it paid off. So did the risky move of opening the bowling with Maxwell-much like his risque top knot.
After months of listening to the team management attribute their run of series defeats in the shortest format to not having access to their best squad, they showed on Saturday that there might well have been some truth to it all along. Not having to playing a single match in Sharjah might result in the Aussies sticking to their pace-heavy bowling attack, even if it maybe against the norm at this T20 WC.
Smith, meanwhile, showed why he remains irreplaceable in this line-up, especially considering the form of some of the other batters and particularly keeping in mind these conditions. Despite a lot of chatter about his diminishing role in the modern-era of T20I cricket, the premier Australian batter showed why backing their original strengths-much like with their pace attack-could well end up being Australia's passport to the knockouts. That also includes the fact that it was Stoinis and Matthew Wade, two men that the selectors have backed throughout despite their inconsistencies, who saw them home with a nerveless partnership in the end.
The wobble in the middle overs and the untoward form of their openers though were a reminder of how they're still far from being at their best. And, why not many have woken up to the Aussies potentially being a threat at the business end of the World Cup. While scoring the two boundaries off Kagiso Rabada, both square of the wicket, David Warner perhaps looked as good as he has since injuring his groin last year during the home series against India. Though short-lived, there was a glimpse of the Warner of old unlike with Finch, who still seems a step short of looking like the Finch of old post the surgery.
The few hiccups in the middle overs would have brought back some painful memories of the Caribbean and Bangladesh before Wade and Stoinis saved the day. Finch & Co though will take confidence from the fact that an Australian team that finds a way to win despite not looking at its best is at its most dangerous in a World Cup format. The scrappy win against South Africa could well be exactly what they needed to not just find their smile but also keep it. And maybe Maxwell might well have to take another dive or two in the dug-out for his coach's sake.