Taking the field after a long gap of four months with a weakened unit, Australia were up for a massive challenge against West Indies, with a lot to draw from the series with the T20 World Cup in sight. Let's take a look at where Australia stand and what they found out from their series loss.
Pacers fail to impress
Even with a plethora of names missing, Australia's pace unit for the Windies series made up for an impressive look, at least on the paper. But, in the five-match series, they collectively conceded 612 runs in 66.5 overs at an ER of 9.15, while they averaged 30.60, which was inferior to Windies' average/ER of 22.55/8.84. It was supposed to be a golden opportunity for the quartet of Josh Hazlewood, Riley Meredith, Jason Behrendorff and Andrew Tye, to stake claims at the pace bowling slots for the T20 World Cup.
Josh Hazelwood, who had played two T20 internationals in the last half-decade in lead up to the series, started off remarkably well with figures of 3/12 but then he could merely scalp a wicket in the remaining series. However, he showed the best control (ER of 7.73) among all the specialist pacers. But, he's still a fair bit away from sealing a spot. Behrendorff, the best pacer in the powerplay in BBL 10, was taken to the cleaners, conceding 11.66 runs per over, sans a wicket in two games.
Hailed as the X-factor, Riley Meredith, pretty much like this year's IPL, where he had lacked control and had an ER of close to 10, went a notch and conceded 13.40 runs per over, the worst ER for any Aussie pacer in the series. He was amongst wickets but far off from the control needed at the top level. Andrew Tye got only one chance in the entire series, but he did well, taking three wickets in the death, and helping Australia pull back Windies from scoring in excess of 220 in the dead rubber. However, to conclude, Australia's pace bowling stands where it was at the beginning of the series. Just that Mitchell Starc's place might be in danger if he doesn't replicate his last over display against Andre Russell, more often, given how poor he was otherwise.
Mitchell Marsh makes most of the #3 slot
With Steven Smith not certain for the T20 World Cup and missing this series, the Men in Yellow had some shoes to fill. Now, who would have imagined Mitchell Marsh getting slotted at #3? Given Josh Philippe had done decently at #3 against New Zealand and Australia's perennial search for a finisher with Marsh one of the contenders, Australia pulled a rabbit out of the hat by giving him a run in the top-order.
And he batted better, than he has, perhaps, in his entire international career. With scores of 51 (31), 54 (42), 9 (12), 75 (44) and 30 (15), the right-hander smashed 219 runs at 43.80, while maintaining a supreme strike rate of 152.08. What stood out was his ability to exert dominance right from the word go. He would just stand and deliver one meaty stroke after another. It was reminiscent of a man who knows what he's capable of, having full belief in his abilities and showing conviction in execution. He was the biggest positive for Australia in the series and has thrown his hat in the ring for the #3 slot, in some style.
Not only with the bat, it was a complete all-rounder performance from him, as he also scalped eight wickets at 11, with an ER under 7, to emerge as the best bowler for the side as well. If Marsh can continue showing the same confidence and performances, Australia will have an X-factor in him. But the biggest test is around the corner, can Marsh continue this form in conditions where he has to face the toughest of spinners? That remains to be seen!
Audition for finishers gone wrong
Australia's search for finishers in T20 internationals has been long, hard and unsuccessful and unfortunately, there was no light at the end of the tunnel even at the conclusion of this series. Marcus Stoinis, Mitchell Marsh, Ashton Turner, Alex Carey and Matthew Wade have all failed to impress in the middle-order, and Moises Henriques and Daniel Christian became the latest entrants to the list of let-downs, at least, as of now, after the five-match series.
Australia had entered the series with high hopes from Turner (152.00) and Christian (182.55), who were hit in the 10th edition of the BBL, with exceptional strike rates. However, Turner scored 30 runs in two outings at 15 while trophy magnet Christian scored 42 runs in four innings at 21. Henriques was also far from impressive, accumulating 95 runs in five outings at 19. Overall, Australia's middle-order (#4 to #7) averaged a poor 14.05, while they struck at 112.94. Josh Philippe, a natural opener, batted at #4 in two games and he also struggled to put up a decent display.
In the last few years, Australia have been heavily dependent on Glenn Maxwell and pretty much like pace bowling, there wasn't much of a relief to the side's finishers woes at the conclusion of the series.
Australia's hideous show against spin
Given the T20 World Cup, this year will be staged in the Middle East, spinners will assume greater importance. With the IPL taking place ahead of the ICC mega-event, the wickets are expected to be slower, which will make spin bowling, arguably the biggest challenge in the tournament. And after the way, the Aussies handled spinners in the series against West Indies, opponents will be making elaborate plans to bulldoze the Kangaroos into submission with the slower bowlers.
Australian batters faced 266 deliveries from the spinners and could merely add up 310 runs at an average of 16.32 and a strike rate of 116.54. None of the recognized Aussie batters could even strike at 150 against spin, which was below-par. Furthermore, against wrist-spin, they averaged even poorer at 9.71, which was simply unacceptable.
Of all the batters who faced a minimum of 20 deliveries of spin, only Marsh did well, with an average of 23.75, though his strike rate was just about decent at 133.80. The trio of Finch (38.6%), Carey (42.9%) and Henriques (36%) were guilty of facing way too many dots, which hampered Australia's batting. Australia will need to up their game against spinners, approaching the T20 World Cup or else, they will be in troubled waters.
Matthew Wade needs a little flexibility in his approach
Matthew Wade is one of the cleanest hitters in the Australian batting line-up and when he gets going, the opposition starts sweating. His strike rate of 161.11 in the series was best among all the Aussie batters, but he failed to translate his starts. In three of the five games, he scored 23 or more, yet his highest score remained 33. Even against New Zealand, there were two innings when he had crossed 20 and was batting at a strike rate in excess of 150 before throwing it away.
Wade's mantra is simple, he will either get out or smash it to all the corners of the ground. But, this is exactly where he needs to do better. So many times, he turns too brash and throws his wickets away. He should take a leaf out of David Warner's book of T20 batting. Even he was uber-aggressive once, but eventually learnt the art of constructing an innings and that has made him one of the best T20 batters in the world.
Wade's numbers have been disappointing since the start of the New Zealand series. In 10 innings, the southpaw has scored 186 runs in 10 innings at 18.6 and hasn't scored even a solitary fifty. Given the X-factor that the seasoned campaigner brings to the plate, if he does slight fine-tuning to the way he constructs a knock, things can turn for the good.