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How to beat Australia

A data-driven strategic guide on how to beat Australia. 

Pick right-to-left spinners

Australia are a right-hander dominant team. Their batting order is bookended by lefties: David Warner at the top and Matthew Wade at the bottom but the five inbetween are all right-handers: since the start of 2021 83% of balls faced by Australia’s numbers two to six have been right-handers – the third most among teams in the World Cup. 

This right-handed dominance makes Australia vulnerable against right-to-left spin (leg spin and left-arm spin) who are typically more effective against right-handers because they are spinning the ball away from the bat and this is borne out in Australia’s performance: since the start of 2021 only Namibia and Scotland have averaged less against left-arm spin and only Bangladesh, Zimbabwe and the Netherlands have averaged less against leg spin. 

Of teams in Australia’s group this is of particular relevance to New Zealand (Mitchell Santner and Ish Sodhi) but also England (Adil Rashid). Australia’s possible opponents in the knock out stages (India, South Africa and Pakistan) all have a left-arm spinner: Axar Patel, Keshav Maharaj and Mohamamd Nawaz while India and Pakistan also have a leg spinner: Yuzvendra Chahal and Shadab Khan. 

Warner is a critical wicket

Not only is Warner an elite player but more importantly he is Australia’s only top order left-hander. Being left-handed gives Warner a natural advantage facing left-arm spin and leg spin, borne out in his record which compares favourably alongside his team-mates.

This means when Warner bats deep into the innings he makes it a lot harder for opposing teams to bowl these types of bowlers. Warner’s wicket is the key to unlocking Australia’s top order because he is surrounded by right-handers who can then be attacked with left-arm spin and leg spin. Maxwell and particularly David also have healthy records against right-to-left spin but as right-handers teams are less likely to be dissuaded from bowling it. 

Essentially Australia have clear issues with the ball spinning from right-to-left but while Warner is at the crease this weakness is harder to exploit. That is not to say that teams shouldn’t bowl right-to-left spin to him: he is likely to take it on which should produce chances, particularly on big Australian grounds with large boundaries but ideally it would be avoided. 

High pace through the middle overs

Australia’s batting order has a complementary blend of players with different strengths and weaknesses which can make exploiting weaknesses more difficult. However, batting against high pace does appear to be an issue shared by enough of them that there might be windows of time when it can be a great match-up. Marcus Stoinis, Glenn Maxwell and Ashton Agar are three middle order batters whose records against high pace are mixed and if they are together at the crease then it represents a good option. 

Hold spin back for Wade

Australia’s decision to pick Matthew Wade as a specialist pace hitter right at the back-end of the innings was a big reason for their triumph last year, with Wade’s outstanding innings winning the semi-final. Wade is an interesting player with an extreme preference for pace bowling. His deployment late in the innings is deliberately engineered to ensure he primarily faces pace and protects him from spin. Opposition teams should look to respond to this by holding an over of spin back for Wade.

Pick good players of high pace

Australia have one of the fastest bowling attacks in the tournament. 37% of balls from Josh Hazlewood, Pat Cummins and Mitchell Starc are faster than 140 kph and having batters who are competent against express pace is important. Since the start of 2018 only Pakistan have taken a higher proportion of their wickets with balls above 140 kph than Australia.

Encourage right-handers to take on Cummins

Cummins has a notably skewed record, thriving against left-handers and struggling against right-handers. This may be a product of the fact that he has a very effective off cutter which deviates wickedly away from the left-handers. 

Attack the fifth bowler & the middle overs

Perhaps the closest thing this Australian team has to a weakness is the fact that their ‘fifth bowler’ quota comes from a mix of Maxwell’s off spin and Stoinis and Marsh’s medium pace. None of these are specialist bowlers and definitely represent a ‘way in’ for opposition teams. These bowlers primarily operate in the middle overs and this is reflected in the fact that Australia’s economy rate in the middle phase of defeats of 8.82 since the start of last year is the highest in the world. 

Don’t back off against Starc & Zampa

While Maxwell, Stoinis, Marsh and Agar are weaker links of the bowling attack, it seems that getting after Adam Zampa and Starc is more heavily correlated with beating this Australian team. Analysis of bowler’s performances in Australia’s defeats in the last two years show that the bowlers who average most in matches that Australia lose are Zampa (35 at 8.73 runs per over) and Starc (49 at 9.38 runs per over). Starc’s Powerplay record in particular has seriously declined of late: before 2021 he averaged 19 runs per wicket in the first six overs, since then he’s averaging 55 with just five Powerplay wickets in 20 matches. 

Freddie Wilde is Head of Performance Analysis at CricViz.

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