Talking points as David Warner, Aaron Finch fail, Marcus Stoinis

Australia’s T20 World Cup is off to a winning start after Aaron Finch’s side narrowly downed South Africa with two balls remaining.

The Aussies found a way to win on Sunday morning (AEDT) in Abu Dhabi but struggled with the bat in a low-scoring encounter that has created some cause for concern.

These are the talking points from Australia’s five-wicket win.

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AUSSIES FAIL TO CONVINCE

Australia has one win from one game at this year’s World Cup and that’s ultimately all that matters.

But if style points were being handed out, Australia would win none, while questions remain over the team’s ability to genuinely challenge for this year’s title.

Opening game nerves certainly would have a played a factor, while the Abu Dhabi wicket wasn’t anyone’s idea of a chase-friendly strip.

Either way, this was an unconvincing display from Australia’s batters that will hardly instil great confidence moving forward.

Both David Warner and Aaron Finch are struggling for time at the crease, while Mitch Marsh — despite promising so much heading into the tournament — has a golden duck and 11 in his past two innings.

Meanwhile, Glenn Maxwell and Steve Smith left the door open to the Proteas whose 9-118 was made to look every bit a total worth over 150.

Australia deserves credit for not hitting the panic button — and there were plenty of opportunities to press it. Australia was 3-38 and, later, still needed 18 runs from the last two overs when its run rate was 5.61.

To finish the job from there deserves credit, but the point is that the chase shouldn’t have reached that juncture in the first place.

Winning ugly is still an important attribute and Australia certainly rolled its sleeves up against South Africa, but better all-round performances will be needed moving forward.

AUSSIE OPENERS’ WOES CONTINUE

David Warner’s run of low scores continues.
David Warner’s run of low scores continues.Source: AFP

All eyes were on Warner heading into the match, although opening partner Finch hadn’t been setting the world on fire either.

Mark Waugh pinpointed the duo’s struggles before the game as a serious worry for Australia.

“I’m most worried about Warner and Finch. I haven’t seen any form from either of those two guys and that’s been the strength of our T20 cricket over the years, our opening combination,” Waugh said on Fox Cricket before the match.

“At the moment, I see that as a weakness. I think they just need to come out and play their shots.”

He added: “It’s not ideal. You can have one player out of form at the top but not both. If you’ve got two guys struggling for form if you waste three overs you can lose the game. So it’s either hit out or get out these two guys.” 

Waugh was right to be worried.

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After 4.3 overs, Australia was 2-20 with both Warner and Finch back in the sheds.

Finch saw five balls before a top edge flew to third man and he was out for a duck.

Warner looked set to end his poor run as he crunched three boundaries, but it proved to be a false dawn as he sliced a drive to backwards point to be out for 14 off 15.

Those wickets set the tone for Australia who made awfully hard work of a small total.

It’s unlikely Australia changes its opening pair for the second match, but its chances of going deep in the tournament hinge on at least one of Warner or Finch — ideally both — coming good.

STOINIS THE FINISHER

Marcus Stoinis provided the crucial finishing touches.Source: AFP

Australia has been desperately lacking a finisher in T20 cricket for some time.

In Abu Dhabi, Marcus Stoinis did his best to prove that a world class finisher was there all along.

It was hardly chasing down 50 runs from five overs, but the way in which Stoinis navigated the final two overs of Australia’s chase was clinical.

With 18 runs needed from two overs and only bowlers left in the sheds, the pressure on Stoinis to deliver was immense.

On a pitch playing its tricks, and in a match where the run rate hadn’t tipped over a run-a-ball for either side, the signs suggested that Australia was on the verge of a rude shock.

Superman catch not enough to stop Aus | 01:03

But Stoinis was poise personified, never panicking, taking the chase deeper before hitting three boundaries in six balls to ice the result.

Matthew Wade deserves credit for getting Stoinis on strike, while Josh Hazlewood was rightly named man-of-the-match.

But you can’t help but wonder where Australia would be right now if it wasn’t for Stoinis.

AUSSIE SELECTION GAMBLE PAYS OFF

Josh Hazlewood was Australia’s best bowler.Source: AFP

Speculation was rife before the match that selectors would do the unthinkable and not pick Pat Cummins to make room for the in-form Josh Hazlewood.

In the end, newly-crowned IPL champion Hazlewood was picked, but so was Cummins as Australia opted for three seamers and just the one spin specialist.

The man to miss out was Ashton Agar, who has been one of Australia’s best T20 players since the start of 2020, and most notably claimed eight wickets at 8.5 in the last series he played against South Africa.

Agar hadn’t been left out when fit all year, only missing three matches against the West Indies after suffering an injury mid-tour.

But on a two-paced wicket in Abu Dhabi, it proved to be the right call from Australia selectors as South Africa struggled to 9-118.

Maxwell showed once again that he’s far more than just a spinning part-timer (more on this later) as he shared the new ball and delivered a full allotment for figures of 1-24. Australia’s opening wicket was Maxwell’s, as he clean bowled Temba Bavuma who looked in good touch early.

Meanwhile, leg-spinner Adam Zampa hit the ground running with 2-21 while all three quicks of Hazlewood, Cummins and Mitchell Starc claimed wickets, combining for 5-75.

Hazlewood was comfortably the star bowler and continues to enjoy a stunning resurgence in the 20-over game, while Cummins provided ample support. Starc, meanwhile, was on the expensive side, but recovered well from his 11-run first over to finish with 2-32.

Agar could yet play a crucial role this tournament on slower and lower pitches in Dubai where a twin-spin attack is likely to be favoured.

But on Saturday, when the safer thing to do would have been to stick to the regular formula, Australia was bold — and was rewarded.

MAXWELL’S UNDERRATED SKILL A PRICELESS WEAPON

Glenn Maxwell was crucial with the ball.Source: AFP

With three spinners in the squad, it always looked like Agar would bowl alongside Zampa to start the tournament.

Australia’s selectors thought otherwise, backing Maxwell to bowl his right-arm off-spin.

He didn’t just bowl, he shared the new ball with Starc.

It was a tactical stroke of genius, as Maxwell took the opening wicket after Bavuma took a liking to Mitchell Starc early.

Maxwell showed what he can do in the IPL by taking wickets at crucial times.

In his first over of the T20 World Cup, he broke through with a quicker delivery which slid on.

It’s worth noting that he was given the new ball as a match-up for the left-handed Quinton de Kock, but ended up knocking over Bavuma instead. That is despite that bowling to right-handers has previously been Maxwell’s weakness.

Maxwell is a trump card for Australia. His off-spin is often underrated but it allows Australia the freedom to go in with three specialist fast bowlers when the conditions call for it.

That sort of tactical flexibility is priceless, particularly at a World Cup.

The all-rounder went only for a run-a-ball and if he continues that form, Australia will continue benefit.

According to Kerry O’Keeffe, his form could also freeze out Agar and Mitchell Swepson for the rest of the tournament.

“Maxwell has now shut the door on Agar and Swepson because he’s proved he can bowl four overs (against) left-handers or right handers. Fantastic effort by Maxi,” he said.

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