Australia vs. Pakistan, World T20: Poor Bowling Attack Costs Naive Australia

Tim CollinsFeatured ColumnistMarch 23, 2014

DHAKA, BANGLADESH - MARCH 23:  Doug Bollinger and George Bailey of Australia leave the field after the Pakistan innings during the ICC World Twenty20 Bangladesh 2014 match between Australia and Pakistan at Sher-e-Bangla Mirpur Stadium on March 23, 2014 in Dhaka, Bangladesh.  (Photo by Scott Barbour/Getty Images)
Scott Barbour/Getty Images

There's a curious detachment between Australia and Twenty20 cricket. Conventional wisdom would suggest that the format is perfectly suited to the archetypal Australian cricketer. However, there remains a sense that Australia are yet to fully embrace the evolving T20 game.

On Sunday against Pakistan, Darren Lehmann's men were considered strong favourites to brush aside a team that had appeared paralysed with a frenetic tension in the Super 10's opener against India. Indeed, the script indicated that—Pakistan's spinning depth aside—Australia possessed both the firepower and momentum to dispose of Mohammad Hafeez's often brittle outfit.

Instead, cricket's hottest nation played with a strange nonchalance, a malaise, born from the naive and ignorant selection of the team's bowling attack.

Sometimes, even when they appear wrong, it's possible to identify the rationale behind selection decisions—the idea clear despite the logic appearing iffy. But that's not the case for Australia in Bangladesh. Picking four seamers for a T20 match is already considered ancient at this level. Doing so on the subcontinent is simply idiotic. 

On Sunday, that ill-suited approach was spectacularly exposed, as an inspired Umar Akmal thrashed his way to a superb 94 from only 54 deliveries to set up a commanding Pakistani total of 191-5. 

Aijaz Rahi/Associated Press

Of course, Akmal deserves plaudits for a sublime performance, given that he arrived at the crease with Pakistan's innings appearing set to follow the same miserable path it did against India on Friday. Yet, it was impossible to shrug the feeling that Australia were attempting to use a hammer for a task that required much more precision and subtlety.

Nathan Coulter-Nile's penchant for bowling a friendly length saw the tall right-armer blasted all around the Shere Bangla National Stadium.

Of the all-rounders, Shane Watson's expensive seam bowling was preferred over the more suitable spin of Glenn Maxwell, while the pace on the ball from Mitchell Starc was also capitalised on. When slow bowling was finally opted for, Brad Hogg and Aaron Finch combined for four alarmingly poor overs.

The contrasting approaches between the teams were most clearly evident as Pakistan put the brakes on Australia after the dismissal of the extraordinary Maxwell; the superb spin of Saeed Ajmal and Shahid Afridi bringing the chasing side to a grinding halt when they appeared capable of cantering to their target of 192.

Already in this tournament we've witnessed the stranglehold that spin can have over batsmen, with India's consecutive stiflings of Pakistan and the West Indies highlighting the primary importance of the tweakers. 

Australia ignored the trend, opted for speed and, in doing so, discovered that, in the game's most rapid format, pace on the ball is a dangerous commodity. 

DHAKA, BANGLADESH - MARCH 23:  Shahid Afridi of Pakistan celebrates after running out Mitchell Starc (L) of Australia during the ICC World Twenty20 Bangladesh 2014 match between Australia and Pakistan at Sher-e-Bangla Mirpur Stadium on March 23, 2014 in D
Scott Barbour/Getty Images

Coming into this tournament, many—including this very writer—believed Australia, with their imposing side, were finally ready to conquer the format that had proved somewhat troublesome for the nation since its inception in 2005.

An extraordinary batting line-up was supposed to overwhelm the team's opponents and in combination with an unequalled fielding outfit would cover up a rather limited bowling brigade.

After one match, in this tournament, on this continent, that quickly needs reconsidering.

But understanding Australia's attitude to T20 is difficult. It's perhaps a stubbornness on their behalf; the country determined to buck the trend and conquer the world their own way. It's also possible that recent T20 triumphs over England and South Africa (sides well off the pace of India, Sri Lanka and Pakistan in T20 cricket) have clouded Australia's judgement on the suitability of their attack.

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - JANUARY 31:  George Bailey (R) of Australia celebrates hitting the winning runs with Cameron White during game two of the International Twenty20 series between Australia and England at the Melbourne Cricket Ground on January 31, 201
Michael Dodge/Getty Images

But the issue feels deeper than that.

Despite being the finest Australian batsman of his generation, Ricky Ponting harboured indifferent feelings toward the T20 revolution. To Ponting, the game's newest format was merely an entertaining sideshow to the real challenges of Test and One Day International cricket. 

The rise of the Indian Premier League and exponential wealth of the BCCI also coincided with a period of genuine tension between Australia and India, founded upon a controversial and heated ODI series in late 2007 and the infamous Sydney Test in January 2008.

Have Ponting's reservations left a residing impact on Australia's attitude to T20? Did Australia's friction with the BCCI at the beginning of the T20 boom ingrain a reluctance to embrace the format?

It's difficult to draw definitive conclusions to both questions, but the fact remains that there's a detachment between Australia and T20 cricket. Instead of ruthlessly hunting their opposition as they have always done in other formats, Australia have regularly used the T20 arena as a stage for development and experimentation.

This World T20 is yet another example.

Are we really to believe that the 43-year-old Brad Hogg represents the nation's finest limited-overs spinning option? Is the 20-year-old James Muirhead with three first-class caps to his name really his obvious understudy? Does Coulter-Nile actually present a superior option to the more miserly Jackson Bird? Is Doug Bollinger really a better alternative to the more incisive and athletic James Pattinson?

More pertinently, should a nation with the aggressive cricketing talent, wealth and resources of Australia really languish 18 rating points behind Sri Lanka in this format?

Certainly, it would be foolish and misguided to suggest that Australia doesn't value victory in T20 cricket. But, in contrast to others, the format appears to have been placed at the bottom of the nation's priorities, seeing it become a place for progressive experimentation.

On Sunday against Pakistan, that approach brought about Australia's downfall. If the team is to turn it around over the remainder of the World Twenty20, an immediate shift in mentality is urgently required.