Glenn Maxwell (left) and captain Pat Cummins
Australia’s Glenn Maxwell (left) and captain Pat Cummins return to the pavilion after steering their team to victory against Afghanistan in the ICC Cricket World Cup at the Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai, India, on November 7, 2023. The win helped Australia enter the semifinals. Image Credit: ANI

Be afraid. Be very afraid of Australia. Not because of the pulsating win over Afghanistan: that was Glen Maxwell’s one-man rescue effort. In fact, Tuesday’s game exposed Australia’s frailties and resilience.

Why should teams in the Cricket World Cup be afraid of Australia? They haven’t been as imposing as the Aussie sides of the past. True, the Pat Cummins-led team lost the first two World Cup matches badly, unable to put together a strong team.

The losses now seem like an aberration. Six wins in a row, and they are in the semifinals. Yet, there’s plenty of room for improvement. Maxwell played a strong hand in two victories — one with the fastest century in the World Cup and the second with the third double century in the tournament’s history. That makes him a one-man demolition squad. Dismiss Maxwell, and the Aussies will sink. Isn’t it?

Why Australia isn’t a one-man demolition squad

That’s an easy conclusion, but it’s not true. Australia are not totally reliant on Maxwell. You will find that David Warner has weighed in with 443 runs and two centuries. Mitchell Marsh and Travis Head have scored hundreds. Steven Smith and Marnus Labuchagne had contributed well when the chips were down.

Leg-spinner Adam Zampa has been the pick of the bowlers after overcoming the indifferent form of the early games. With 20 scalps, he’s second on the list of top wicket-takers. Mitchell Starc and Cummins haven’t been incisive enough, but Josh Hazlewood has been among the wickets.

What’s laudable is the Australians’ ability to adapt to varying circumstances. They still don’t have a fixed Playing XI, partly because of events beyond their control. Marsh had to rush to Australia to take care of some personal matter, Maxwell was out of action for a week with a concussion following a freak fall from a golf cart, and Smith has had a bout of vertigo. They simply haven’t been able to field their best XI in most games.

That hasn’t stopped the Aussies. Three good wins and they were away, although New Zealand gave them a scare and England threatened briefly. The Afghanistan match was as good as gone at 91/7 before Maxwell worked a miracle. Not the ideal preparation for the bigger battles in the semifinals. But this is Australia. Never write them off.

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The Baggy Greens are generally at their best in the knockout phase. Five-time champions, they have only lost two finals. That gives us an idea of their ruthlessness in the last four stage.

The 2021 Twenty20 World Cup is a fine example of the Australians clicking into a higher gear in the semifinals. After a patchy show in the round-robin matches, they upped the tempo to take down Pakistan and New Zealand to win the title. An encore can’t be ruled out.

Australia will meet South Africa for a place in the final. If they win, a sixth title is a possibility. So, be afraid!