Cricket Corner: Is it time to consider this Australian side as one of the great teams?

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Cricket Corner: Is it time to consider this Australian side as one of the great teams?

Australia's (left-to-right) Pat Cummins, Travis Head and Marnus Labuschagne pose with the trophy after winning the Cricket World Cup final
Australia's (left-to-right) Pat Cummins, Travis Head and Marnus Labuschagne pose with the trophy after winning the Cricket World Cup finalProfimedia
In this recurring feature, Flashscore's Pat Dempsey brings together the leading talking points from the increasingly sprawling universe of the world's second-most watched sport.

In a nod to the longest form of the game - Test cricket - the article is broken into three sections to mirror the main intervals in a day’s play: Lunch - the main course; Tea - something slightly lighter; and Stumps (the end of play) - something to ponder over a few drinks at the bar.

Lunch - How good is this Australian team?

It’s old news by now but there is only one place to start this edition of Cricket Corner - Australia are world champions in the 50-over format for a record-extending sixth time! And what a win it was for captain fantastic Pat Cummins and his resilient side. Going into the World Cup, few (including me) expected Australia to lift the trophy let alone make the final. What’s more, after losing their opening pair of matches and with Sri Lanka at 0-120 in their third fixture, it really looked like Australia were nailed on for a forgettable tournament.

The knives were out and fast being sharpened. Why hadn’t they taken a second specialist spinner? Why had they kept faith with the same crop of ageing players across all formats? Was Cummins even the right man for the job given he had captained only a handful of One Day Internationals (ODI) in his career?

Well, they answered those questions and their critics in some style. It wasn’t an easy road to the final but that was part of what made their success so impressive. Their tournament was marked by a sequence of outstanding individual performances. From Adam Zampa battling back spasms to become the tournament's leading spinner to Glenn Maxwell’s breathtaking double century against Afghanistan. From Travis Head returning from a broken hand to hit a century in the final to Cummins’ brave decision to bowl in the decider and showing how it’s done with figures of 2-34 while not conceding a single boundary.

Australia’s World Cup run was a relentless revolving door of big-game players stepping up and claiming emphatically: ‘I’m him.’

Since winning a Twenty20 (T20) World Cup almost exactly two years ago (under then-captain Aaron Finch), this Australian team - which is largely the same group across formats - has won an Ashes series 4-0 at home and then retained the urn in England. In between that they won the World Test Championship and have now added an ODI title as well. What's more, many of the side won the ODI World Cup in 2015. Is it time to consider them as one of the greatest teams in cricket history?

They certainly don’t have the longevity of the legendary West Indies side or even that of the Waugh-Ponting mega-era of endless Australian invincibility but they have achieved a hell of a lot in a short period. Most nations cherish a single world title in one format, this group now have titles across all three formats in just two years. They don’t feel like the best white-ball team ever but they might just be the best multi-format ever.

While many of the players seem to be on the brink of retirement, it’s not over just yet for Cummins and his troops and they could yet add more trophies to the cabinet. Whether they do or don’t, one thing is for sure - they have secured their spot in the conversation for the rest of time.

Tea - The series no one wants

Did somebody say 'rematch'? Just when you thought you (and, more importantly, the players) had earned a break from cricket, a bilateral T20 series between India and Australia is about the begin… tomorrow! That’s right, the World Cup finalists are set to meet in not one, not three, but five T20 internationals (T20Is). Why? I don’t really know, but there is a T20 World Cup next year so it’s time to focus on gearing up for that, I guess.

The makeup of the teams is telling. India have selected an almost entirely second-string side and that is no surprise as their veteran white-ball players are understandably crestfallen following their lost shot at greatness. Suryakumar Yadav, who did play in the final, will lead a team that is brimming with next-generation talent.

Putting aside the fact that no one really cares about this series, it is a great chance for the likes of Yashasvi Jaiswal, Ruturaj Gaikwad and Ravi Bishnoi to stake a claim for being entrusted for the approaching World Cup in the USA and West Indies. The older boys couldn’t get the job done, is it time to pass the baton on for good?

As for Australia, they have also selected a heavily rotated squad but have retained veterans Steve Smith and Glenn Maxwell, indicating that those two have their sights set firmly on the tournament next year. David Warner was originally included but has withdrawn - can’t blame him, really.

Australia will be led by 35-year-old keeper-batter Matthew Wade - remember him? His is probably the most intriguing selection in the side. Given that Australia have not named a permanent T20 captain since Finch retired in February, it goes to show that Wade could be an option for the World Cup and will probably be involved. 

However, it’s now hard to imagine Cummins not being entrusted to lead the side next year, should he want to. Mitchell Marsh, who took charge of the 50-over side in Cummins' absence earlier this year, is also not playing in the coming series. As for emerging talent, look out for Matthew Short, an explosive top-order batter who bowls handy off-breaks and leg-spinner Tanveer Sangha. Similarly to India, this series is a chance for the emerging Australian players to say: ‘No, I’m him!’

Stumps - What about the next ODI World Cup?

The next men's ODI World Cup is set to be held in late 2027 in South Africa, Zimbabwe and Namibia. South Africa and Zimbabwe will qualify automatically along with the top eight ranked sides among the ICC’s full member states as of March of that year. Namibia will have to go through the qualifying process as they are not a full member.

The Super League, which formed part of the qualification process for the World Cup just gone, has been scrapped. That was the league covering the 2020-23 cycle of ODIs - it was comprised of the 12 full members and the Netherlands. For the cycle leading up to the 2027 tournament, the Netherlands have been relegated back down to what is called ‘League 2.’

League 2 contains the best eight non-full member states in a second-tier competition. That means, despite qualifying for the World Cup ahead of the West Indies, Zimbabwe and Ireland and then beating South Africa and Bangladesh, the Dutch will be resigned to playing second-tier sides in this cycle. It feels like a harsh deal for the Netherlands, who were really impressive in India, but they did finish last in the Super League.

Aside from two of the hosts and the top eight other nations, there are four more spots up for grabs in the World Cup that are available through the qualifier tournament. The top four sides from League 2 plus the bottom two remaining full members will enter that 10-team tournament. The four other berths will be filled via a qualifier play-off tournament played between the lowest four League 2 sides and the top two sides from the third-tier Challenge League - 12 further nations compete in that league.

The World Cup will be moving away from the much-derided 10-team group format that was used this year. Instead, it will be expanded back to 14 teams and return to a format used previously - two groups of seven followed by a ‘Super Six’ stage, semis and the final.

If the Dutch taught us anything this year, it's that more teams should be involved in the World Cup. Further, the 10-team round-robin was fraught with plenty of dead rubber matches towards the end. In short, 2027 is looking much better.

Many wondered, including myself, if the tournament in India might actually be the last 50-over World Cup. I have to say, I really hope not. It wasn’t perfect as a spectacle but it was timely reminded of how interesting and competitive the format can be at its best.

Between Tests, T20Is, ODIs and a rapidly expanding franchise universe, it remains unclear whether there is enough room for it all but perhaps it isn't a matter of dropping a format entirely but rather balancing them out. More than anything, it would be a real shame to lose the legacy and prestige of the 50-over World Cup - it matters. After all, what’s more magical - a 50-over World Cup final or a five-match T20I series? I think we all know the answer to that one.

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