Finally, Australia’s ‘dream team’ can be unleashed. On Thursday, Australia’s 15-man Champions Trophy squad was named and headlined by the inclusion of talented pacemen Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood, Pat Cummins and James Pattinson.
The foursome have been likened by gushing Australian coach Darren Lehmann as the modern version of the hallowed 1980s West Indian pace battery. This enviable collection of talent fused with speed, intimidation and accuracy has long been the fulcrum of Australian hope.
A continual injury scourge, particularly to Cummins and Pattinson, has shelved Australia’s mouthwatering plans but, finally, it appears those dreams are close to materialising. Cummins and Pattinson have both made stunning comebacks with the New South Welshman starring in his long-awaited return to Test cricket recently in India, while the fiery Victorian has mesmerised in Sheffield Shield and County cricket.
The only caveat is that there is a lingering question mark next to Starc’s participation in the Champions Trophy. The left-armer suffered a foot injury during the tour of India in March and faces a race against the clock to be fit although Trevor Hohns, chief Australian selector, was confident Starc would be available.
Assuming Starc recovers in time, Australia will be tempted to unleash their four-pronged attack for the first time. In seaming English conditions, they loom as an absolute handful in a glimpse of what could unfold in the future- an Ashes tour of the UK is just two years away.
Still, despite those prize pace assets, selectors may feel the team is unbalanced playing all of them. Pattinson, who is prone to be wayward, feels more like insurance for Starc and might be the bowler that misses out on the final XI if selectors prefer versatility.
John Hastings, the burly paceman, was a somewhat surprise inclusion and will most likely play the role of backup but his probing bowling perfectly complements English conditions. Leg-spinner Adam Zampa has been selected as the specialist slow bowler although he’s been unable to carve a regular One-Day International (ODI) position despite performing solidly when given a chance.
In ODIs, Australia has long preferred a slew of all-rounders complementing their pacemen although selectors dropped a bombshell by excluding limited-overs mainstay James Faulkner, who was the man-of-the final in the 2015 World Cup. Instead, Australia has gone with all-rounders Glenn Maxwell, Marcus Stoinis and Moises Henriques, who was somewhat of a left-field choice but his selection confirms Faulkner’s reduced standing.
For so long, Faulkner was Australia’s dependable closer –with bat and ball – but his omission means the brain thrust will have to rejig their strategy. Still, Australia’s revamped attack remains their strength and is juxtaposed by a shaky batting order.
After a turbulent period on the outer, Aaron Finch has been entrusted as David Warner’s opening partner, a combination that had been until recently the fulcrum of Australia’s ODI batting. With skipper Steve Smith at first drop, Australia’s top three has plenty of experience and important continuity but the batting feels patchy after that.
Selectors resisted veterans Shaun Marsh, George Bailey and Usman Khawaja, while Test incumbent Peter Handscomb was overlooked. Much faith has been invested into highly-rated youngster Travis Head, who can push his Test candidacy with a stellar tournament most likely batting at No.4.
Chris Lynn looms as the team’s x-factor but is currently sidelined in the Indian Premier League with a shoulder injury. The Twenty20 superstar failed to make an impact in his only ODI against Pakistan in January but selectors obviously just couldn’t resist the temptation. A fit and firing Lynn is capable of being a match-winner and provide the pyrotechnics to turn matches in mere deliveries.
Inevitably, there will be quibbling over the makeup of the squad but, undoubtedly, it brims with firepower and a healthy dose of class. However, it remains to be seen if this new look Australian team can handle the sizeable expectations.