Aussie star’s dressing room truth bomb
World domination was supposed to be out of Australia's reach in England but suddenly what was a laughable fantasy just six months ago is now edging closer to reality.
The Aussies won just two of 13 one-day internationals in 2018 and started off 2019 in similarly miserable fashion, losing four of their first five matches of the year in the 50-over format.
There was uncertainty about personnel and what style of cricket should be played, Aaron Finch was the new full-time captain and the scars of the ball tampering scandal were still raw. A World Cup was arriving at the worst possible time for a country not used to failing on the sport's biggest stage.
But all that's forgotten now. Three straight wins to claim a 3-2 series win over India on the subcontinent then a 5-0 thrashing of Pakistan in the UAE gave Finch and his comrades a much-needed confidence boost ahead of the showpiece tournament, and now they're top of the table after winning seven from eight games in the UK.
After an early scare, crumbling to 5/92 against New Zealand at Lord's today, the Aussies bullied the Black Caps to record a massive 86-run win. What was shaping up as a close contest ended in a bloodbath for the Kiwis.
Jason Behrendorff picked up two wickets, continuing a golden patch in a career that's too often been stunted by injury, and afterwards made some revealing comments about the cultural shift inside the Australian dressing room that's been a key reason behind the national team's resurgence.
"We've been playing cricket for each other now and that's something that potentially was lacking in the past," Behrendorff said. "So it's something that we're really striving to play for each other and win for each other."
Asked to expand on his claim players haven't been playing for each other in the past, Behrendorff added: "It's hard when the team chops and changes a little bit so to get that continuity within the group, we've had that for a little while now, similar guys have been playing in the last few series so it makes a difference.
"I don't want to put any words in selectors' mouths that's for sure, but it's just something you've seen with a lot of the good teams over long periods of time. Their teams don't change a huge amount … guys gel together really well."
Culture has been at the heart of Australia's determination to change since the cheating controversy in South Africa. Cultural reviews exposed nasty truths and coach Justin Langer talked about picking good blokes as the Aussies set about re-branding themselves.
Hearing Behrendorff pinpoint perhaps the most significant cultural change of all suggests the problems in the Australian dressing room ran deeper than just underperforming with bat and ball during a tough trot.
AUSSIES ARE THE REAL DEAL
Even at the beginning of the World Cup plenty of pundits weren't convinced about Australia's credentials, suggesting its batting lacked the necessary explosiveness. But Langer and his players have stayed the course and the trophy is now within reach.
Knocking off England at Lord's during the week was a huge moment on Australia's road to ODI redemption. The hosts were the raging favourites to savour their first taste of World Cup success but Finch and Co. proved they're now able to match it with the world's best, just months after struggling to get a solitary win on the board.
The Aussies are guaranteed a place in the semi-finals and the way they're playing was enough for Kiwi seamer Trent Boult to tell reporters after New Zealand's loss they're now the team to beat.
It represents a remarkable transformation for a team that six months ago was on life support, and even making the knockout stages of the World Cup seemed far-fetched. Now other teams will be scared of Australia.
Behrendorff said winning the World Cup so soon after suffering through an ODI crisis would make victory that much sweeter.
"That'd be huge. Like you said, it wasn't great for a little while but we've turned it around quite well," Behrendorff said. "The performances we've had over the last six months in particular, the home series against India was a great start and then to beat India in India was unreal.
"To go 5-0 in Dubai against Pakistan, you can't ask for much more than that.
"The consistency in the group's been really good and we've been able to play some great cricket."
Mitchell Starc, who continues to act as a one-man wrecking ball in World Cups, took 5/26 against New Zealand and referenced the positive "feel" around the group as he spoke about Australia's chances of winning the whole thing.
"I wasn't part of the group for the last few tours before we got together for the World Cup. From all reports, it's been a fantastic feel around the group in the UAE and India and to play some fantastic cricket heading into that April break, was probably the momentum that the group was after heading into this tournament," Starc said.
"So I think our chances (of winning) are as good as any other team. We've always spoken about peaking towards the back end of the tournament, and we're still searching for that perfect performance.
"We're not quite there yet. We're showing glimpses of what we are capable of with the ball and with the bat and in the field, but we have still got room to improve, and that's exciting for this group.
"And if we can do that - obviously we have to make the final first - but if we can play our best game, well, we've got to play our best game in the semi now and hopefully better that in the final, and that's what tournament play is all about."