Lots for Australia to learn from World T20 losses, but in a tournament like this, “you can’t afford to learn, you’ve got to win”, says coach
Darren Lehmann has been widely credited with playing an influential role in the stunning turnaround in Australian fortunes over the last five months. Appointed national coach barely two weeks before the Ashes last summer in England after Mickey Arthur was summarily dismissed, Lehmann oversaw a 0-3 loss in that series, but since then, Australia has been on a dramatic upswing across formats.
It overran England 5-0 in the return Ashes Down Under, won both the One-Day International and Twenty20 International series, then travelled to South Africa to defeat the No. 1 Test side in the world 2-1 before clinching a three-match T20I series 2-0.
Not much, however, has gone right for Australia in the ICC World Twenty20 2014 which, armed with one of the most powerful batting line-ups, it entered as a strong favourite. Despite posting scores of 175 and 178, Australia has been beaten by Pakistan and West Indies respectively, defeats that have pushed it to the brink of elimination.
One of Lehmann’s great virtues is that he believes in speaking his mind, even if it means ticking off his players in public. Much of the interest in the lead-up to Friday’s (March 28) clash between Australia and West Indies had revolved around James Faulkner’s ‘I don’t particularly like the West Indians’ comment, a statement that came back to bite Australia as the defending champion used it as a motivational tool to all but send Australia packing.
Lehmann chose to be cute when he was asked if Faulkner had awoken a sleeping giant, though he couldn’t help himself as he said, “They’re big players, so they are giants. From my point of view, James has probably got to choose his words a little bit better, but that’s just part and parcel of the banter of the game, isn’t it? We’re in the entertainment business, and if I could dance like Chris Gayle, I’d be dancing every night of the week. We play our cricket hard and verbally that’s what is going to happen. But we play it fair. You live and die by the sword, don’t you? You win, you lose, you’ve just got to cop it and move on.”
The victory, by six wickets with two deliveries to spare, was especially satisfying for West Indies, which celebrated uninhibitedly with a prolonged dance jig in the middle. The celebrations hadn’t impressed George Bailey, the Australian captain, and Lehmann didn’t seem too thrilled either, even if it was an Australian himself who had driven the West Indies to such expressions of delight.
“At the end of the day, you’re going to get emotional with winning. We’ve certainly been through those stages but we’re really respectful of that as well,” Lehmann offered. “When you win, you’ve got to win in the right way and act appropriately. If that’s the way they do that, that’s fine. That’s not our choice. That’s certainly not what we do. They certainly dance very well though, I’ll give them that.” And, they play cricket very well too, he might have added.
Lehmann conceded that results in the World T20 were a disappointing end to what had been a fine southern hemisphere summer. “We had played pretty good T20 cricket, obviously at home and then in South Africa, just before we came here,” he said. “We were probably 70% in all three formats (disciplines). And it’s a good learning curve but you’ve got to win those games. We have got to be on the mark each and every time, especially in this knockout format. You find out about some players in pressure situations which is good and bad for a coach and a captain. At least we learned.”
Australia lost six wickets to spinners against West Indies and had been undone by the turning ball against Pakistan as well, but Lehmann said that wasn’t because there was a weakness against playing spin. “We beat ourselves in these games. It’s as simple as that. Obviously, credit to the West Indies and Pakistan but we should’ve won both of those games. We’ve got only ourselves to blame,” he pointed out. “We under-clubbed with the bat in both games. We needed 75 off 10 in the first game (against Pakistan) with eight wickets in hand. And our match awareness has got to improve in this format. And against West Indies, we got 178 and we didn’t bat very well. Our top six have got to take the shoulder of that, especially the times they got out more so than anything else. The last couple of balls of (Sunil) Narine’s (Brad Hodge was dismissed reverse-sweeping the penultimate delivery of Narine’s four-over spell) over, those sort of things that they’ve got to get better at. That’s about learning, but in this tournament, this format you can’t afford to learn, you’ve got to win.
“We don’t have a weakness, because certainly spinners didn’t get us out – we got ourselves out today (against West Indies). We’ve certainly got some work to do in that area, but that’s like every area – fast bowling, playing short-pitched bowling, it’s no different. The wickets certainly haven’t spun as much as we thought, so that’s no excuse for our batters.”
Brad Haddin put down Dwayne Smith, missed a stumping of Chris Gayle and has generally been below par in the tournament. “His keeping has been poor. That’s okay, he won’t mind me saying that. He’s honest enough for that,” said Lehmann. “He’s been fantastic over a long period of time for us. He took a great catch tonight (to dismiss Marlon Samuels) and missed a couple of opportunities. At the end of the day, he’s been exceptional for us. He’d be disappointed in his own form in these two games. That’s not hiding away from the truth. The simple fact is he’s one of our better performers and a couple of our experienced blokes – Shane Watson, David Warner for example – they didn’t have the impact that we would’ve liked.”
Next up for Australia, on Sunday night, is India, who has already made the semifinal after an all-win record from three matches played. “We’re lucky enough that we’ve played some decent one-day cricket against India, in India, not too long ago in October,” Lehmann pointed out. “We know them very well, and they know us very well. It’s going to be a great challenge for our batters and bowlers to put a complete performance together. If we do that, we can compete with anyone in the world.”
Men like Dan Christian and Cameron White haven’t played a game in this tournament thus far, and Lehmann kept his cards close to his chest when asked if they both might get a go now that Australia’s campaign is all but over. “I’d have to speak to Rod (Marsh) who is the selector with me on duty. We’d love to play our guys. At the end of the day, you’re playing a game for your country, so you’ve still got to pick the best team to win the game. If those guys come in, they’ll be in the best XI, and we’ll play them. We’ve got to sum that up (in the next 48 hours), so we’ll have to work pretty quickly on that one.”