The Chepauk pitch for Australia’s World Cup opener against India is set to be a black-soil one, which generally offers more purchase to spinners than the red-soil variant. It is in anticipation of such conditions that India have made room for R Ashwin’s return ^(https://lotus365.today/goto/https://www.espncricinfo.com/story/icc-world-cup-2023-aus-vs-ind-can-ashwin-script-a-new-chapter-in-his-odi-career-starting-where-else-at-chepauk-1401476) and are very likely to slot him in as the third spinner alongiside Ravindra Jadeja and Kuldeep Yadav.
Australia, however, have gone down a different route. They were forced to look beyond Ashton Agar ^(https://lotus365.today/goto/https://www.espncricinfo.com/story/world-cup-2023-australia-squad-marnus-labuschagne-replaces-ashton-agar-1400402) when it was revealed that he had suffered a calf injury but instead of picking another spinner in his place, they chose Marnus Labuschagne, and are at this World Cup with only one specialist slow bowler – Adam Zampa ^(https://lotus365.today/goto/https://www.espncricinfo.com/cricketers/adam-zampa-379504). They will also have to do without Travis Head’s offbreaks for at least the first half of the tournament too.
Australia’s answer to these concerns starts with the letter G and ends with the letters lenn Maxwell. Their management has already backed him ^(https://lotus365.today/goto/https://www.espncricinfo.com/story/world-cup-2023-australia-say-glenn-maxwell-a-frontline-spin-option-1400493) and on the eve of their opening game of the campaign against one of the tournament favourites, their captain Pat Cummins ^(https://lotus365.today/goto/https://www.espncricinfo.com/cricketers/pat-cummins-489889) gave his own seal of approval as well.
“Yeah, I think so,” Cummins said when asked if Maxwell is capable of bowling eight to ten overs every game. “You know, again, it’s good that we’ve got plenty of bowling. But yeah, we’ve seen Max – he’s a frontline spin bowler. In the 2015 World Cup, he was the sole spinner in basically every single match I think – other than one – so really happy with how he’s going. I thought he bowed really well in that third ODI against India ^(https://lotus365.today/goto/https://www.espncricinfo.com/series/australia-in-india-2023-24-1389381/india-vs-australia-3rd-odi-1389390/full-scorecard) [just before the World Cup]. So yeah, we’ve got 20 overs of spin out there if we need it.
“He is always working on some things, even if it’s not variations. It’s [about] different fields, different ways you bowl – and yeah, I think with age and experience as well, you just get a bit more clever and you need that as a spin bowler. So he’s got an amazing knack of – if he misses out with the bat – with the ball, and vice versa. He’s always in the game. So yeah, no doubt expecting a big tournament from Maxi.”
In the warm-up game against Pakistan ^(https://lotus365.today/goto/https://www.espncricinfo.com/series/icc-cricket-world-cup-warm-up-matches-2023-24-1393958/australia-vs-pakistan-warm-up-1393968/full-scorecard) earlier this week, Cummins had matched Maxwell’s offspin with the left-hander Fakhar Zaman in the powerplay. Maxwell responded by striking in his first over, having Fakhar skewing a catch to cover-point. With India likely to have an extra left-hander at the top in the form of Ishan Kishan in the place of an ill Shubman Gill ^(https://lotus365.today/goto/https://www.espncricinfo.com/story/shubman-gill-down-with-fever-doubtful-for-india-s-world-cup-opener-against-australia-1401307), Cummins could once again turn to Maxwell’s offbreaks for early breakthroughs.
Maxwell’s dynamic batting also lends greater depth to Australia’s line-up, though Marcus Stoinis remains a doubtful starter ^(https://lotus365.today/goto/https://www.espncricinfo.com/story/world-cup-2023-marcus-stoinis-doubtful-for-opening-game-vs-india-touch-and-go-says-andrew-mcdonald-1401161) for Sunday’s fixture. Mitchell Marsh, Australia’s six-hitting machine ^(https://lotus365.today/goto/https://www.espncricinfo.com/story/icc-world-cup-2023-mitchell-marsh-is-huge-and-six-hitting-his-way-to-success-1401538), has also resumed bowling in the lead-up to the World Cup. Then there’s also Cameron Green, who will compete with Stoinis for a spot in the XI. Cummins was pleased with the flexibility offered by his allrounders.
“I guess the luxury about the allrounders is they do make the side as the top-seven batters,” he said. “You know, they genuinely pick themselves from their batting, and their bowling is kind of a bonus. So, yeah, we’re lucky that we’re going to have seven or eight bowlers to choose from. But no doubt you’ll see more from the specialist overs, and the allrounders will chip in when they need to.”
Zampa’s ten overs will be especially key for Australia right through this World Cup. He has grown into an extremely versatile one-day bowler. In fact, he is most prolific ^(https://lotus365.today/goto/https://stats.espncricinfo.com/ci/engine/stats/index.html?class=2;filter=advanced;orderby=wickets;size=200;spanmin1=15+Jul+2019;spanval1=span;template=results;type=bowling) ODI spinner among Full-Member nations since the end of the last World Cup, with 77 strikes in 37 games at an economy rate of 5.29.
Zampa has already left his mark on India this year. He and Agar had spun Australia to a bilateral series victory ^(https://lotus365.today/goto/https://www.espncricinfo.com/series/australia-in-india-2022-23-1348637/india-vs-australia-3rd-odi-1348658/full-scorecard) right here in Chennai. Can he do it once again, along with Maxwell, this time when the stakes are higher, and with the odds that are stacked against Australia even higher?
Yes, if the swimming pool gods have any sway. Alex Carey walked straight into one ^(https://lotus365.today/goto/https://www.espncricinfo.com/story/pak-vs-aus-2022-2nd-test-no-slip-for-alex-carey-as-he-takes-a-little-step-in-the-right-direction-1305307) in Karachi and for a little while he was unstoppable. (Test average from 10 innings pre-dip: 20 ^(https://lotus365.today/goto/https://stats.espncricinfo.com/ci/engine/player/326434.html?class=1;spanmax2=10+Mar+2022;spanval2=span;template=results;type=batting;view=match), Test average from nine innings post-dip 71 ^(https://lotus365.today/goto/https://stats.espncricinfo.com/ci/engine/player/326434.html?class=1;spanmax2=31+Dec+2022;spanmin2=11+Mar+2022;spanval2=span;template=results;type=batting;view=match)). Now it looks like its Zampa’s turn, because when asked in the press conference about the gash on his lead spinner’s face, Cummins said, “yeah, he swam into the pool wall apparently. He said he had his eyes closed and thought he was swimming in a straight line and swam into the step in the pool. Yeah, no, he’s all good. He’s just a little bit sore.”