David Warner’s caution and Usman Khawaja’s demotion stump Australia | Geoff Lemon

What – and I cannot stress this enough – the hell was that all about? A common narrative during this World Cup has been that Australia are finding form at the right time, grinding out results by summoning some ghost of champions past. The reality is that after a run chase against Afghanistan mired in drudgery, then a botch against West Indies that was saved by the bowlers, Australia’s batting was exposed against India in a way that was entirely predictable yet offered some spicy new elements.

Why, if you had to chase 352 runs at seven per over, would your opening batsman who is celebrated for attacking flair start by blocking out 50 balls?

Why, if you had a different opener who had assembled a recent pile of 769 runs at a decent clip in 13 innings, would you push him down the order where he scores more slowly than anyone who has batted in your middle order since the last World Cup?

And why, if you had at your disposal the batsman with the second-highest strike rate of all time in one-day internationals, would you leave him in the shed with your team already needing 8.7 an over to come in later with less time on his side and the required rate up above 11.5?

Australia set about a run chase at the Oval like a team with no interest in winning it and left far too much to a couple of players at the end. One thing has been clear since before the tournament started: Australia have picked a misjudged squad from which it is impossible to pick a fully functional XI.

David Warner’s effort against India compounded the problem. There is no shame that the man who started his career as a manic basher has refined his approach. His hard running and strike rotation saw him top the Indian Premier League run-scoring a couple of months ago.

But since his return to the Australia team from a year’s suspension things have not looked right. If his warm-up matches yielded little, then his first World Cup match against Afghanistan was a hesitant mess. He played out maidens, was missed at slip and scratched to his slowest one-day half-century from 74 balls.

That was forgivable for a player chasing a modest 208. It was unforgivable when, in a chase nearly double that, he broke his own record with an even slower fifty. There was brilliant bowling from India’s Jasprit Bumrah and Bhuvneshwar Kumar but for huge chases, even good balls need to produce singles. Too often Warner just blocked, as though steadying himself for an assault that never came.

The second problem is Usman Khawaja. As an opener in Warner’s absence he flourished but anywhere else in the order he has been a liability. He scores freely during the early fielding restrictions but struggles to start with the field back. Australia’s selectors lacked the courage to make a tough call. They would not drop Khawaja because of his runs but would not let him open because Warner’s record pulled rank. In trying to have it both ways, they have left their player stranded.

That much was obvious against India when Khawaja lost his new spot at No 3 to Steve Smith, who was sent in as a more dynamic run-getter. So when Warner fell after a painful 56 from 84 balls, Khawaja came in at four needing nearly nine an over.

Usman Khawaja

Australia’s Usman Khawaja, who looked uncomfortable batting at No 4, is bowled by Jasprit Bumrah for 42. Photograph: Paul Childs/Action Images via Reuters

It was his worst possible situation and his early desperation at finding the field only added pressure on Smith. Khawaja eventually heaved some boundaries to make 42 off 39 balls but by then Smith was losing his shape and slogging as well.

Which leads us to the third problem: had Glenn Maxwell come in when Khawaja did, the fastest-scoring batsman in the game’s history behind Andre Russell might have been able to keep Australia vaguely in touch. Instead he came in with 75 balls remaining needing 11.5 an over. He creamed 28 from 14 but had been left too much to do.

The only hope for Australia had been to start fast and, while that could have been tempered with caution, it instead became caution tempered with little else.

Warner is not playing the aggressive knocks that made his name; he is playing innings Khawaja could have played. Khawaja is not the player for the new job he has been given. The only back-up batsman is Shaun Marsh, who plays a similar style. There is no back-up who can do fast damage. Nor is there a back-up for the all-rounder Marcus Stoinis, who has been struggling for months.

Things are clearly amiss with Australia’s batting and their returning champion. When Warner was on one, an inside edge rolled on to his stumps without dislodging the bail. Commentators said his side were lucky but, had he got out, Australia would have had a better chance of winning the match. And whatever the various controversies of his career, this is surely the first time anyone has been able to say that.

source: theguardian.com