Steve Smith has been in reassuringly consistent form for Australia at this World Cup.
Steve Smith has been in reassuringly consistent form for Australia at this World Cup.

Australia’s half-time World Cup report card

AT roughly the halfway mark of Australia's latest World Cup campaign, the defending champions share second spot with England and are set fair for a place in the semi-finals.

As Tiger Woods' sponsors Nike once famously said: 'Winning takes care of everything'.

Yet while Australia have the points on the board they undeniably have another couple of gears to find if they are to challenge India and England (and possibly New Zealand) for the title.

WHAT'S GONE RIGHT?

For the most part, the batting has been impressive - with Australia racking up a trio of 300+ scores in their past three matches.

 

That has come about thanks to a few individuals stepping up when it matters, dragging the team over the line when victory has not always seemed certain, rather than the full order firing as one.

Aaron Finch, David Warner and Steve Smith all occupy a place in the tournament's top seven run scorers; while Mitchell Starc and Pat Cummins are second and fourth on the wicket takers list respectively.

Big players win big tournaments. And Finch has seen a perfectly timed return to from, leading form the front in every sense, his captaincy as well as his run scoring as much a feature of Australia's successes.

Smith has played the anchor role as if unaffected by his enforced time on the sidelines. Still twitchy, still unorthodox, still one of the best batsmen in the world. Three half centuries in five matches at an average just south of 50 details his value to the side.

David Warner has yet to catch fire but is still high up the run scoring charts.
David Warner has yet to catch fire but is still high up the run scoring charts.

There is concern over some uncharacteristically slow accumulation from Warner. But 281 runs from five knocks at an average of 70 speaks of the high standards previously set that he is not quite reaching, rather than a fundamental problem with his game.

Cummins has been a consistent force with the new ball. Starc has been more erratic. But is targeting the stumps more than any other bowler at the competition and reaping the rewards at the start and the conclusion of innings and is a frightening prospect for any batsman he faces.

The reintegration of Smith and Warner has gone as smoothly as anyone could have hoped and Justin Langer and Finch appear to be presiding over a squad that is, from the outside looking in, happy in each other's company.

Langer even characterised the slightly patchy form, and an inability so far to put together a complete performance, as a positive, suggesting improvements will come as the business end of things is reached.

The truth of that assertion will be tested in the remainder of the competition.

WHAT'S GONE WRONG?

Life has been less rosy for Australia's supporting cast.

All-rounder Marcus Stoinis' indifferent form has been compounded by an injury that might have been expected to force him out of the competition. That Australia are so keen to patch him up to play on - even with Mitch Marsh with the squad as insurance - tells a story of a deficiency in the depth of the squad.

Without him there is no seam bowling allrounder, which has a knock on effect on Australia's bowling stocks, with Glenn Maxwell asked to turn his arm over for the full 10 overs, or in tandem with Finch and even Smith as the fifth bowling option. Fine against Sri Lanka, dangerous against the other favourites.

Even before his injury Marcus Stoinis has struggled to make an impact on proceedings.
Even before his injury Marcus Stoinis has struggled to make an impact on proceedings.

Australia's problems stem from an imbalance to the side. Usman Khawaja, the world's leading ODI run scorer for the year going in to the event, has been shunted down the order to a point where no one seems to know where he fits in.

A reluctance to accept he probably has no place if not opening has left confusion in selection and the troubling sight of he and Shaun Marsh being asked to pinch hit late in an innings when neither men - for all their talents - is suited to the role.

Maxwell's strike rate has been as impressive as ever, but he hasn't faced enough balls. He has bowled more with pre-tournament talks of a dual spin option with Nathan Lyon and Adam Zampa shelved. The former is the only squad man yet to see action prompting questions over whether Australia know what to do with their slow bowlers.

Quicks have dominated the competition so far.

But with pitches wearing and the tension ratcheting up, spin will come to play a bigger role. Australia may rue letting Lyon and Zampa kick their heels for a spell if needed later on and coming in undercooked.

Despite Nathan Coulter-Nile's match wining knock against West Indies he, along with Jason Behrendorff and Kane Richardson have failed to take their chances in any meaningful way.

Of most concern will be the way in which a gifted India completely dominated their match with Australia.

Nathan Lyon is the only member of the 15-man squad yet to see any action.
Nathan Lyon is the only member of the 15-man squad yet to see any action.

Despite labouring to make a contest of it, India were always in front of the match, outperforming Australia in all three disciplines. A worry when the Indians, England and, most likely, New Zealand, lie in wait in the knock out stages.

THE STANDOUTS

Smith and Cummins have been consistently, routinely excellent. But the greatest impact has been made by Finch's ability to strike hard from the first over and Starc's toe crunching yorkers bamboozling batsmen.

Finch's canny captaincy and adroit use of his bowlers - as well as the DRS system - has also gone a long way to keeping Australia's' noses in front of matches where tricky situations were faced.

THE CONCERNS

The lack of a complete performance and concerns over balance are the background noise, but there is also a serious worry about the depth of Australia's bowling stocks. In Cummins and Starc Australia boast two of the leading quicks in a tournament that has seen fast bowlers prosper.

But the first change is a drop off in quality.

If Starc and Cummins make inroads at the top of things then Australia are well set. If partnerships are allowed to form and quality players able to see off the pair and target what comes next, then trouble is hard wired in to the innings in the middle and late overs where Kane Richardson's death bowling is no more than passable.

Starc is enjoying himself there but if needed to be saved to finish off things his potency to the best batsmen is blunted.

Stoinis' injury will be a worry even if as expected he is cleared to play on.

WHAT COMES NEXT

On Thursday night Australia can all but book their place in the semi-finals with victory over Bangladesh.

It's a match they ought to win but is not a banker with Bangladesh's hugely experienced side having shown some spirit and talent some perhaps had dismissed, not least in their stunning seven wicket win over West Indies last up.

In Shakib Al Hasan they boast the tournament's top scorer with two tons and a pair of half centuries to his name, as well as five wickets, and Australia will need to be on their game to secure the two points.

After that it's consecutive games against England and New Zealand before the group stage wraps up with a match with the underwhelming South Africans. Those three matches are spaced over two weeks which should help, too.

If everything goes to form Australia will then have a semi-final against one of the other 'big four' sides, and Australia's ability to come good at the pressure moments will then be properly tested.