As the George Bailey-led Australian team arrived in Pune ahead of the opening ODI of the seven-match series,one of the worries gnawing at the 31-year-old Baileys mind must be his teams rather fragile lower middle-order. Only 29 runs arrived in Australias last four overs in the one-off Twenty20 game in Rajkot,again pointing to the Australians failure to end on a strong note. Australias last 50-overs assignment was against England in September. Australia won the rain-curtailed three match series 2-1,but were regularly tied down by their batsmen,who failed to give the scoring rate the necessary acceleration at the death.
In the three one-dayers,Australia managed to score 80,32 and 56 runs in their last ten overs with a combination of Bailey,Matthew Wade,Adam Voges and James Faulkner in the middle order. With an average score of 56 off the last ten in the three games,the foundation built by the Australian top-order was not really fortified. Even though the Aussies managed to record two victories,a brittle lower-middle order might be a cause for concern,especially in Indian conditions where the last 10 overs,either batting first or chasing,assume great importance.
In the Champions Trophy,the average score for Australia in the last 10 overs was 55 runs (twice batting first) along with an average loss of four wickets,which played a part in ensuring that they finished the group stage without a victory. Conversely,Indias average score was 76 runs (twice batting first) with an average loss of three wickets over the same period of the game.
Last overs blues
A major part of Australias lower-middle-order worries can be attributed to the fact that they have Bailey,Voges and now probably Brad Haddin followed by Faulkner or Henriques batting at number five,six,seven and eight. Bailey and Voges are both prolific scorers in ODIs as evidenced by their averages,46.13 for Bailey and 48.6 for Voges. However,both batsmen bat in the top-order for their respective state sides and only drop into the lower-middle-order when they don the canary yellow. With strike-rates in the 80s for both batsmen,it is evident that the pair like to get their eye in before upping the ante. With time running out in the last six to eight overs,Baileys and Voges brand of batting might just short-change Australia in the coming series. Haddin,the 34-year-old keeper,replaces Wade,but having played his last one-day game in February,his form is questionable at best.
Conversely,India in their last series at home against England managed an average of 86 runs in their last ten overs,batting first in three games. Indias strong finishes towards the end can be mainly credited to the troika of Suresh Raina,Mahendra Singh Dhoni and Ravindra Jadeja. Dhoni is renowned as one of the best finishers in the game,with the ability to clear almost any ground at will. Rainas prowess in lofting straight down the ground and slogging powerfully over midwicket comes in handy during the last ten overs. Jadejas penchant for the long handle is also quite well known,giving India substantial ammunition to blaze away at the death.
However,Australia,who are sure to have noticed this particular weakness,could do well to try a few different batsmen in the lower order and promote Bailey and Voges up the order to ensure a stable run in the middle of the innings. Glenn Maxwell,with an ODI strike rate of 116.88,might just be a good bet at the number six position,and could just be the one to provide quick runs for his side in the last leg of the innings. An unlikely choice,but someone who might just spring a surprise,is Nathan Coulter-Nile. The 26-year-old pacer has a decent limited-overs average of 28.38 and with a strike-rate of 93.18,well over those of Bailey and Voges.