T20 World Cup: Lankan Lions need a fearless approach against Aussies

Australia's Josh Hazlewood (right) has been in terrific form. (AP)
Australia's Josh Hazlewood (right) has been in terrific form. (AP)

By Ayaz Memon

Published: Wed 27 Oct 2021, 11:59 PM

Packed with several big stars, Australia have not yet been able to find their rhythm in the tournament, which will raise optimism in the Sri Lankan camp when the two teams meet on Thursday. Both sides won their opening matches, but in contrasting styles which actually turned the spotlight even more on the struggle of the Aussies.

Sri Lanka, despite losing four early wickets against Bangladesh, chased down a stiff 172 run target with aplomb. It was Charith Asalanka and Bhanuka Rajapaksa who turned the game around in style, steering Sri Lanka home with more than an over to spare.

Australia, on the other hand, made heavy weather of a paltry 119-run target against South Africa. Obviously, the pitches for these matches were vastly different. This was a sluggish strip, lacking in pace and bounce which made stroke-play difficult.

But Australia’s effort was still terribly laboured and without a cogent batting game plan. After several anxious passages of play, victory was finally achieved in the last over. Had the South African batsmen given their gutsy, skilful bowlers even 10-12 runs more, the result would probably have been different.

For some reason, Australia have not been able to sustain excellence in the T20 format for any great length of time. Their successes have been intermittent, despite the presence of top-notch talent. A line-up that boasts David Warner, Aaron Finch, Steve Smith, Glenn Maxwell, Marcus Stoinis, Matthew Wade, Pat Cummins, Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood, Adam Zampa and Ashton Agar should be winning more matches.

In the ICC T20 rankings, Australia are currently no. 6, which highlights their travails in this format. Having never won the World Cup, they have come to these shores with their best players. But on the evidence of performances so far, redemption looks far away.

On tracks without too much pace or bounce, the Aussie batsmen haven’t been able to play strokes freely. This came through in the warm-up matches as well as in the Super 12 game against South Africa.

Warner’s lean trot has compounded the problem. He’s the kind of batsman who would get stymied by the pitch, but runs have been eluding him for a while now. Right through IPL 2021, Warner struggled to get into even double figures. Finch’s form has been lukewarm too.

And the misfiring openers have robbed Australia of authoritative starts which the middle and lower order could build on.

Sri Lanka have a good variety in bowling, though the bowlers may not have the fame in international cricket which some others enjoy. Lahiru Kumara has been in excellent form, and Wanindu Hasaranga has shown match-winning potential as a hard-hitting batsman and leg spinner.

The challenge for Sri Lanka is how their batsmen perform against Australia’s formidable attack. Cummins, Starc and Hazlewood make a formidable trio of pace bowlers, irrespective of pitch or conditions. Of the three, Hazlewood is probably the most dangerous bowler currently as he was part of the CSK side which won the IPL title and has spent almost six weeks in the UAE, playing or practising. Leg-spinner Zampa’s prowess in this format is very well known.

The greater pressure in this match will clearly be on the star-studded Australia team.

Sri Lanka, who came through the qualifying rounds, played freely and with abundant positivity against Bangladesh to clinch two important points.

Now a fearless approach is needed in this match to put the Aussies under deeper pressure.

Ayaz Memon is an Indian sports writer and commentator

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