The Cairns Post
Trio cool in crisis at Cup
A WEEK ago Steve Smith’s World Cup place was being questioned – suddenly the odds on him being dropped were the same as the sun rising in the west.
Smith has not changed. The tournament has. Or at least what we expected.
Under normal batterfriendly conditions, Smith’s 35 off 34 balls against South Africa might have been the sort of knock that drew criticism for not finding fifth gear.
But on Saturday night it was far more precious because, while he would not have wanted to go one tick slower, it helped Australia wobble home in a low-scoring game.
This could be the craziest T20 World Cup of all, one that turns the game’s shortest format upside down and takes the game’s whip hand away from swaggering batsmen and hands it to bowlers used to being slaves.
South Africa was shot down for only 118 in Abu Dhabi as Australia scraped home with two balls to spare.
The West Indies were rolled for 55 and even though England got them with 70 balls to spare, power hitters such as Jos Buttler could manage only 24 off 22 when he was trying to up the run rate.
Of course, the bigger scores will roll in soon enough but Ricky Ponting alerted us to the fact the UAE wickets have been well worn by the recent Indian Premier League and may be hard to score on.
Bring it on.
Low-scoring T20 matches such as Australia versus South Africa have a charm all their own and they will ensure the tournament has a victor who successfully answers so many difficult questions.
Teams will need to be smart in the selection room. Batting brains will count for more than
brawn. Subtlety could be more important than strength. Experience will trade in gold bars.
New Australian selection chairman George Bailey started his role on a winning note with a successful punt on Josh Hazlewood as part a three-pronged pace attack.
Yet things can change so quickly there may be games when picking three spinners makes more sense.
Australia will need to be nimble and occasionally bold in team selections.
The old dictum that World Cups are won by heavy duty players rather than Flash Harrys was underlined not simply by Smith’s hustling and the relentless probing of Hazlewood but, in a smaller way, by Matthew Wade.
Urged by many to drop Wade for Josh Inglis, the selectors kept faith with Wade, sensing his fighting heart may be needed in high pressure moments, which it was.
A neat catch over the stumps and a desperately needed 15 off 10 at the death when pulse rates were soaring vindicated the move.
Australia still has much work to do before it can consider itself a strong chance of snatching the title.
Someone in the top three – David Warner, Aaron Finch or Mitchell Marsh – needs to step up because those early overs when the field is up and the ball is hard are when Australia must strike hard and often.