History says Australia cannot win the 2017 Champions Trophy in England.
Australia need about six days of cricket before they start performing at their best in English conditions; they will only get one.
‘Six?’ I hear you ask incredulously. Surely that’s an absurdly specific number!
But time after time it has been proven true. I have looked back at every Australian visit to England from 1993 onwards and six is consistently the magic number; the only exceptions have been a couple of times when it has taken them five days to click into gear.
Here are the overall numbers for Australia in one-day cricket in England (against test playing nations), from 1993 onwards.
The message would appear to be clear: Australia don’t need much cricket in England to acclimatise but they do need more than just a game or two. This being the case, it’s a wonder why Australia scheduled only two games before this Champions Trophy. I realise how difficult it is in modern cricket to squeeze in warm up games but when the difference between two and six is so stark it would seem a no-brainer.
South Africa have done it better. They have played two games against county opposition before three ODIs against England. And without wishing to read too much into it, their performances have kept on improving: they were hammered by England in game 1, lost a close one in game 2 and then annihilated England in game 3.
Surely the Aussies could have commenced their campaign a week or so earlier with some one day games against county sides. As it is, they’re going to enter the Champions Trophy having played only one warm up match (the second scheduled game was rained out). They are such a good side that I wouldn’t want to bet against them winning the tournament anyway, but if they do so, it will be flying in the face of what has occurred for decades.
A look at the past
Australia has had some of its poorest and most embarassing one day results (including losses to Zimbabwe and Bangladesh) when turning out underdone in English conditions.
Consider this: from 2003 there have been eight ICC 50-over tournaments and Australia has won five of them. Of the three they failed to win, two were the Champions Trophies in England in 2004 and 2013 – tournaments that Australia entered with barely any preparation.
The 1999 World Cup ended in triumph – after a disastrous start. Australia only had two lead-up games before the tournament began, whereupon they beat Scotland unimpressively before losing to New Zealand and Pakistan and beating Bangladesh (not especially brilliantly). They were teetering on the brink of elimination, but crucially, the Bangladesh game was their sixth day of cricket on tour: Australia went undefeated for the next six games to win the trophy.
The six-day rule is strikingly consistent, as you will see from the list below.
1993: Australia had excellent preparation: three 3-day and four one day games against counties. Australia then beat England 3-0 in the ODI series.
1997: Australia played only three warm up one dayers against counties and then promptly lost the series against England 3-0.
1999: Australia’s first six days of cricket consisted of two warm up one dayers and then their first four world cup games: a win against Scotland, losses to New Zealand and Pakistan and then a win against Bangladesh. After this, they went undefeated for the next six games to win the cup.
2001: Australia had better preparation: five days of cricket against county sides – a 3-day first class game and two one dayers. They were still rusty in these county one day games – losing to Middlesex and tying with Northamptonshire – but the warm ups did the job, with the Aussies winning the international tri-series involving England and Pakistan, only losing one game in the process.
2004: Australia played only one warm up ODI before the Champions Trophy, beating Pakistan. In the tournament they beat USA and New Zealand before losing to England in the semi final.
2005: The Aussies’ first six days of cricket consisted of two one day wins over county sides, a loss to England in a T20 International, a loss to Somerset, and then ODI losses to Bangladesh and England. Then they clicked into gear, beating England and beating Bangladesh twice, before tying with England in the final and then beating England 2-1 in a bilateral ODI series.
2009: Australia played only two games ahead of the World T20 and in the tournament itself they lost both games and were eliminated. Later that summer, with many of the side having acclimatised to England during the Ashes itself, they proceeded to belt England 6-1 in the one day series.
2010: Australia had only two one day games as preparation for their 5-match series against England. They lost the first three games of that series, coming back to win the final two but by then it was too late.
2012: Australia had only two warm up games before their ODI series with England – a series they lost 4-0.
2013: Australia had only two warm up games ahead of the 2013 Champions Trophy and then lost both games in the tournament and were eliminated. Much later in the tour the Aussies beat England 2-1 in a one-day series.
2015: Australia lost the Ashes and a one-off T20 against England, but – with many of the ODI side acclimatised after the test series – won the one day series against England 3-2.
Modern day players travel so often, they are masters at rapidly acclimatising. And the Aussie team is very powerful – big hitters and attacking bowlers and Steve Smith – the best batsman in the world.
So, I wouldn’t put it past them consigning all this history to garbage and playing superbly. But if they don’t, surely questions must be asked about their scheduling.