Australia resist temptation to rest Starc and Cummins before knockouts

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“I think the great thing with New Zealand is that they fight and scrap every single game, regardless of whether it’s a World Cup final or it’s a club game.” © AFP

With yet another semifinal appearance and the chance to win their sixth World Cup title looming , it could be easy for Australia to give in to the temptation of resting top performers like Mitchell Starc (19 wickets in 7 games) and Pat Cummins (11 wickets in 7 games). Captain Aaron Finch admitted there was a ‘minimal’ urge to do that, but said he wasn’t keen on upsetting the apple-cart.

“Quite minimal [urge to rest Starc and Cummins] to be honest. They are both feeling really good at the moment. Yeah [it is] slightly tempting, but at the same time, you don’t want to tempt fate. You don’t want to upset the apple cart just for no reason, really. And that also comes down to how they are feeling, as well, and they are both feeling great at the moment,” Finch said on the eve of Australia’s clash against 2015 finalists New Zealand.

Australia didn’t walk into the World Cup as the favourites, and had the uncertainty of how David Warner and Steve Smith would transition into the side on their international comebacks. The senior pair, though, carried their IPL form into the showpiece event and have played a big role in Australia’s momentum-grabbing run in the tournament.

In the last 20 years, Australia have always meant business in World Cups, and yet the expectations from this edition seemed to be a bit hushed, until of course Finch & co. began to knock off wins on the trot. They haven’t lost a game since going down to India on June 9, and are now very much on course to add to their tally of the biggest ODI prize.

“I know that they [Starc and Cummins] have got no interest whatsoever in being rested or anything like that. And as a coaching staff and management of the players, everyone’s really on the same page in that regard to try and keep our winning momentum and making sure that we are never taking anything for granted in this tournament,” Finch said.

It also helps Australia that they’ve got through their busy period of the group stage with just one skirmish, in the form of the defeat to India. In the seven days between June 9 and June 15, Australia were squeezed in to play four games, three of which resulted in wins.

Since then the scheduling has been a lot more lenient, affording them five-day gaps to recuperate. Saturday’s game against New Zealand comes after a four-day intermission, while their next and the last before the semis is only on July 6 – another reason to not turn to chopping and changing to keep their players fresh.

“We have got a week between our next game. So we play Saturday, and then we play South Africa the following Saturday. So that was a part of the reason we don’t want to rest anyone, as well, because we feel as though that week will be a really good opportunity for the bowlers to really freshen up and de-loading them three or four days after this match to manage them through the next part of the tournament, and obviously with a huge summer coming up here with the Ashes and all going forward.

“Our scheduling has been quite good in that regard in that we had a really busy period sort of right at the start. Now it’s four days between games, and then a week between games. So the guys will still get a lot of time to freshen up in that time.”

Finch also threw his weight behind Australia’s Trans-Tasman rivals amidst criticism that they tend to crumble under the pressure of a big occasion – citing their dream run through the group stage of the 2015 World Cup before a meek surrender in the final. Finch reckoned knockout games tend to change course on the basis of one small move, and felt the current New Zealand side under Kane Williamson appear to be up for a scrap everytime they get on the field.

“I think the great thing with New Zealand is that they fight and scrap every single game, regardless of whether it’s a World Cup final or it’s a club game. That’s a part of how they play their best cricket, and I know under Kane they certainly do fight and scrap for every run on the field. They are a great fielding side. They put pressure on you. They have got world-class players. It’s going to be a good game,” Finch said.

While New Zealand have the breathing space of losing one of their last two fixtures and still staying alive, Australia’s other rivals – the hosts – don’t enjoy such luxuries.

England began the tournament as overwhelming favourites, but three defeats to Sri Lanka, Pakistan and Australia has left them on the brink of a dramatic league stage ouster. In the wake of the recent performances, there has been some criticism from within England’s camp regarding the pitches that have been on offer at the World Cup.

England have revolutionised the 50-over game in the four years leading up to this tournament, even looking like the one side that can breach the obscene 500-run barrier – but the pitches haven’t quite behaved as expected. In a slightly left-field pre-World Cup prediction, India captain Virat Kohli felt even in the times of 350s and 400s being achieved easily, the World Cup will see sub-300 totals being successfully defended.

But that prophecy has come true as Sri Lanka defended a total as low as 232 against England while Australia got the better of their nemesis after posting 285. Finch pointed towards the weather in the early stages of the tournament for the conditions to suddenly seem bowler-friendly, and opined low-scoring ‘arm wrestles’ far more entertaining than games where teams end up scoring 400.

“I think over here, having a really wet first couple of weeks of the tournament probably set some curators back in terms of what their ideal preparation would have been.

But they have still been good, entertaining wickets. You can look at it two ways. People want 400, and they see that as an entertaining game and teams getting close. I personally think the games that are 220, 240 that are real arm wrestles that have more momentum shifts back and forth are more entertaining,” Finch said.

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