India vs. Australia, WT20: Where Do Australia Go from Here in Twenty20 Cricket?

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India vs. Australia, WT20: Where Do Australia Go from Here in Twenty20 Cricket?
Scott Barbour/Getty Images

Australian cricket prides itself on aggression. Under Darren Lehmann, perhaps even more so. But on Sunday against India, Lehmann would have been horrified by what transpired.

Certainly, the sheer magnitude of Australia's loss to MS Dhoni's side would have incensed the Australian coach, but more alarming was the defeatist nature of his team's mauling. 

Whereas other nations define themselves by results alone, the essence of a side's performance is of unparalleled importance in Australia. The rugged roots of Australian culture demand a combative edge from the nation's sportsmen.

It's that very concept which has endeared Australia's team to its public of late, with Lehmann and Michael Clarke inspiring the side to embody an unshakable ferocity. That dynamic in itself is what made Australia's performance against India so at odds with the nation's recent performances.

Against England this winter, Australia were barbaric. But more important than their aggression was the clarity of purpose in Lehmann's men. Every decision carried a clear intent and sound reasoning. No time was spent diddling in indecision. The same was the case in South Africa.

Puzzlingly, the exact opposite has been evident in Bangladesh at this year's ICC World Twenty20. 

In all three of Australia's matches thus far, there's been a hit-out-or-get-out feel to the team's batting displays. Sadly, that hit what felt like an all-time low against India on Sunday.

Despite chasing just 160, George Bailey's men approached their task in such reckless fashion that it was hard to believe the team had formed any resemblance of a plan. Batsmen came and went, each one departing in more ugly circumstances than the last. 

Scott Barbour/Getty Images

Somehow, bringing the most explosive line-up to the tournament has backfired for the Australians, with each bludgeoner seemingly content to leave the task to someone else. Had it not been for the precocious Glenn Maxwell—who at 25, is the youngest of the team's batsmen—Australia would have been blown away on three consecutive occasions.

What's more troubling is that Australia's bowling attack appears to operate with even less conviction in its approach.

Bucking the trend of the T20 arena, Australia have unsuccessfully opted for pace on the subcontinent. But more startling than the results of that misguided tactic has been the lack of any clear intent. Worse, Bailey has seemed out of answers in his handling of his wayward seamers.

Scott Barbour/Getty Images

Identifying the fixes for Australia in Twenty20 cricket, however, is rather problematic, for there's a curious detachment between the nation and the game's shortest format, an apparent sense that T20 cricket holds little importance in the country's international priorities, given the team's haphazard approach to this year's global tournament. 

It's elementary, of course, to point to Australia's uneasy relationship with spin as the obvious reason for their troubles in Bangladesh. Like a number of other non-subcontinental sides, Australia's discomfort in both facing and delivering the turning ball has left the previously rampant outfit exposed in the spin-dominated realm of T20 cricket. 

Yet, it's simplistic to suggest that alone has brought about Australia's downfall in Bangladesh. The realities of Australian cricket and the conditions on offer also make it extremely unlikely that Australia will ever field an elite limited-overs spinning brigade. 

Scott Barbour/Getty Images

What instead needs to be Australia's priority, is finding a method of operation that contains some margin for error. At present, there's an all-or-nothing feel to Australia's T20 cricket. Compare that to the premier teams on show in Bangladesh.

Favourites to claim the trophy, India's approach is vastly predictable, but it gives MS Dhoni's team a chance to be triumphant even when the side is far from flawless. Bowlers are relentlessly rotated to prevent the capture of rhythm by opposing batsmen, while fielders remain in the circle to stifle teams in the middle overs. When it comes time to bat, an anchor is regularly deployed to prevent the chance of a sudden collapse.

While more enigmatic with the bat, Pakistan's mentality in the field is very similar, aided by two of the side's primary batsmen in Mohammad Hafeez and Shahid Afridi, who are able to hold down critical roles with the ball.

Contrastingly, Sri Lanka and the West Indies also allow themselves room to move in the T20 game, but they do so through a different method in the field. Acknowledging the importance of the middle overs, the likes of Sunil Narine and Ajantha Mendis are regularly utilised between the sixth and 15th overs to push the batting side toward a frenetic panic before the innings reaches its close.

Scott Barbour/Getty Images

Not only do those strategies provide the respective teams with a sense of calm and knowledge of the required process, but they also allow the sides to remain in the contest for as long as possible. In the volatile T20 arena, that's an essential commodity.

Thus, Australia must unearth their own patented method. A balance must be found in the side's natural inclination to attack at all costs. 

With the bat, Lehmann might be wise to consider the selection of Steve Smith—a player possessing the capacity to keep innings progressing while also tempering the hastiness inherent in the current Australian order.

Of course, with the ball, Australia are unlikely to turn to a battery of spinners, but surely the use of a front-line tweaker in Nathan Lyon would be beneficial. Alleviating the sameness of the attack and selecting those with the ability to vary both pace and delivery type would also be beneficial—Jackson Bird is a prominent candidate who comes to mind.

But more than that, Australia must find their own blueprint. On the Test and One Day International stages, Lehmann's men have excelled by discovering a formidable identity.

It's time to lose the all-or-nothing approach and do the same in T20 cricket, too.

 

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