Steven Smith is doing what he loves most in the world. Mitchell Starc did the thing he couldn’t help but do. And Australia did the thing they’ve known forever. A warm-up game that went down to 23-overs-a-side had many positives for the five-time ODI champions. They were on course to beat the Netherlands until the weather beat them.
Having spent most of the evening frustrated by the rain in Thiruvananthapuram, it felt almost cruel to ask Smith to wait any longer. Australia won the toss if the game could be played and a man with an emergency cricket bat in his hotel room if he wanted to practice one or two at 3am there opened the innings.
Smith has been conscious of elevating his power game lately, to the point where he seems to have increased over the past two years. The BBL witnessed this shift of gears first when he scored back-to-back centuries in January and a bit of it was on display here too. He launched three sixes and four fours in a half-century during which he scored a strike rate of 130.95, while watching his teammates fall in pursuit of their own big hits.
The Netherlands hardly play any cricket in the top teams so although it may officially be an unofficial game, for them it is very valuable. They entered a World Cup with only 10 teams and they only did so because they dispatched the once mighty West Indies. Logan van Beek (2 for 35), Bas de Leede (2 for 25) and Roelof van der Merwe (2 for 12) showed the quality they have here, picking up six wickets between them.
Australia finished on 166 for 7, with wins for those who will hold key positions in their lower-middle order at the World Cup as well. Alex Carey was promoted to No. 3 and he made 28 of 25. Cameron Green came in at No. 5 and he hit 34 off 26. Starc slipped to No. 6 and helped himself to 24 out of 22. Then someone would come and give him that shiny new white ball.
Managing the workload means Starc has played just four ODIs in 2023, and only one in the last six months. Australia need him to have more overs in his legs. He made three, got so much banana swing that there was one moment – after he cleaned up Wesley Barresi’s bowling with a worldie that swung to pitch off the stumps then seamed it to hit mid-stump before the bat. there is an opportunity to come. down – when he was like, “huh, so that still happens in one day cricket? Good to know.” Dude quietly took a hat-trick – lbw, bowled and bowled – before he was taken out of the attack.
Australia have an anomalous squad for the World Cup, with only one specialist spinner. They rely on their big three quickly to get wickets and perhaps Mitchell Marsh, who bowled 4.2 overs on Sunday, to keep the runs going if needed. Glenn Maxwell’s form with the ball will come as a welcome boost and whenever Travis Head is fit and ready he will be able to pitch in some offbreaks himself.
PS – The match was stopped when more rain came with the Netherlands at 84 for 6.