Australia seek end to longest losing streak in ODIs

Australia’s public – at least those with a match-day ticket or a Foxtel subscription – will turn their lonely eyes towards Adelaide Oval on Friday, hopeful that the national team will put on a better show than the one in Perth on Sunday. Against a well organised and confident South Africa, Aaron Finch’s team looked cloudy in mind and slow of feet, whether in terms of the footwork required to blunt the pace attack or the tactics to unsettle the visitors’ pursuit of a paltry target.
Mitchell Starc can at least expect to return to new-ball duty after a short-lived attempt to try Nathan Coulter-Nile instead, a change leapt on by Quinton de Kock at the top of the South African chase. In the midst of a seven-ODI losing streak, it was understandable for the Australians to try some things, but relegating your leading new-ball bowler by a distance to first change seemed redolent of overthought.
It will be intriguing to see whether there is much on-field reaction to the removal of the long time team performance chief Pat Howard, who had always favoured statistical evidence-based solutions and analysis of the game. Finch spoke sympathetically of Howard’s role, but there is little doubt that the coach Justin Langer will appreciate a little more clear air around him in coming weeks and months.
“When you’re in his position, you’re in a no-win position,” Finch said of Howard. “A lot of the time you have to rob Peter to pay Paul to change all the structures around. And whatever is best for the men’s side might not be the best thing for one state in particular at the time. He was in a really difficult situation and did an unbelievable job during that period. It’s unfortunate that Pat has gone, I know how much he loved the game.”
For South Africa, the opportunity is there to add to Australia’s baggage ahead of next year’s World Cup in England by sailing to a series win in two matches. At the same time, young players like Reeza Hendricks and Lungi Ngidi have the chance to get used to beating Australia away from home – a mental advantage they can carry into future tours down under.
Having fallen cheaply in the series opener, Travis Head will take the field at his Adelaide Oval home ground knowing two things. The first is that this Australian side is short of confidence and in desperate need of someone to turn this around for them, preferably from the top of the order where he is posted alongside the captain Finch. The second is that in recent times, Head has made a habit of starts that do not become big scores – three consecutive fifties in the ODI series in England might so easily have been more, and he also slipped frustratingly short of a debut Test hundred in the UAE. Selection in this series also means he lacks the Sheffield Shield platform to shore up his spot in the longer form of the game.
No-one set things up for South Africa in Perth quite like Dale Steyn in his opening spell. While new ball swing was only subtly available, he used this to his advantage with a wonderfully precise length, line and angle across the left-handers in particular. The combination of experience and cutting edge Steyn provided in the opening match spoke volumes for his quality as a paceman, and also sent Australia spiralling in a manner from which they never quite recovered. On an Adelaide pitch that also promises at least a smattering of grass, fortune may well hide in the palm of Steyn’s right hand.