Carey package could lift fragile Australia after India setback
If Australia go on to retain their crown at the Cricket World Cup, Sunday's defeat to India may prove to be a blessing in disguise for Aaron Finch's team
The reigning champions were put to the sword in the first innings at The Oval, where opener Shikhar Dhawan's century and 82 from captain Virat Kohli helped India reach a daunting 352-5.
With Pat Cummins and Mitchell Starc blunted up front, the rest of Australia's bowlers were unable to contain, let alone pose a threat. There were two late wickets for all-rounder Marcus Stoinis, but they came too late to make a difference.
Yet despite the attack going at a combined economy rate in excess of seven runs per over, it was the Australian run chase that was the major talking point in the aftermath.
David Warner and Steve Smith hit half-centuries, while skipper Finch and Usman Khawaja also made contributions. However, none of the top four were able to copy Dhawan's example, failing to turn what were promising starts into a meaningful score their team desperately needed.
In getting out when seemingly in, they left their middle-order colleagues too much work to do. If the plan all along was to set up the innings for a big finish, they drifted further away from the script each time a wicket was lost.
Glenn Maxwell tried his best, hitting 28 off 14 deliveries, and Alex Carey smashed his country's fastest ever World Cup half-century, but it was all in vain. They were bowled out from the final ball of the 50th over, 36 runs short.
Former England captain Michael Vaughan branded Australia's batting "dated play" on Twitter. Kevin Pietersen went even stronger in his appraisal, describing the innings as a "horror", followed by an emoji that made his overall thoughts absolutely clear.
This has been one very strange Chase so far ..... #CWC2019— Michael Vaughan (@MichaelVaughan) June 9, 2019
The defeat was Australia's first in 11 ODIs but, having climbed off the canvas from 38-4 to beat West Indies last week at Trent Bridge, they went too far the other way.
The usually-aggressive Warner faced 84 deliveries to make 56. Finch, Smith and Khawaja, who came in at four, went along at closer to a run-a-ball rate, yet it was not until Maxwell and Carey arrived at the crease that India sensed any danger.
When asked whether there was any talk in the dressing room of sending him in earlier, Carey understandably voiced support for his top-order team-mates.
"There was no talk of that," the wicketkeeper-batsman - who ended up unbeaten on 55 from 35 balls - said.
"With Steve Smith on 60, David Warner on 50 and Usman Khawaja, who has just had an amazing series against India, to come, plus Marcus Stoinis' power hitting, there are so many options.
"We trust the batters and the order we've got. Unfortunately, we were probably chasing a few too many. We had a good shake at it, but it was for one of the top four to push through and make a big score."
Yet Carey would have been ideal for a promotion, sent in with the sole aim of putting the brakes on a required rate that was moving in the wrong direction as far as Australia were concerned.
So what about the make-up of the team moving forward? Taunton is the next stop on the World Cup tour, as they take on Pakistan on Wednesday.
Cummins and Starc can only bowl 20 overs. The drop-off to Coulter-Nile and Stoinis is considerable, yet the pair have all-round value. The seam bowlers outside of the XI - Jason Behrendorff and Kane Richardson - may offer more with the ball but cannot be relied on to contribute runs. Lengthening the tail is a dangerous tactic, an all-in policy that could result in going bust.
Likewise, Nathan Lyon would be a like-for-like change for Adam Zampa; they are both frontline spinners, the former arguably more reliable without offering as much in terms of variation, not known for their one-day batting exploits.
Shaun Marsh, meanwhile, is the spare batsman. The left-hander hardly offers much of a variation on Khawaja, the one surely most at risk of losing his spot.
With alternative batting options somewhat limited, Australia either have to shuffle the deck or hope one of their leading lights – particularly Warner, who has spluttered along at a strike-rate of 71.8 runs per 100 deliveries so far at the World Cup, a number lower than his career mark in Tests (74.50) – finds another gear.
Either way, Australia may have to consider changes if they want to retain their title.