MOHALI: Darren Lehmann defended the make-up of the Australian squad after their World Twenty20 elimination, admitting they had been made to pay for blowing a prime opportunity to beat group-topping New Zealand earlier in the tournament.
Virat Kohli's astonishing and unbeaten 82 from 51 balls confirmed Australia's exit on Sunday night, continuing their World T20 blues, which they won't have a chance to eradicate until they are the host nation at the next event in 2020.
Smith rues costly middle overs
Steve Smith says Australia's failure to form partnerships in the middle overs has been costly.
Lehmann, by his own estimation, won't be coaching the team by then but said players must use the experience as another learning curve in the shortest format and on Indian conditions.
Australia depart before this week's semi-finals with some questions over their squad: the team's second specialist spinner, Ashton Agar, only bowled one over, against the Black Caps, for the tournament in an event dominated by slow bowlers.
Elsewhere, David Warner's shift away from opener didn't work – although there was very little alternative with Usman Khawaja consistently leading Australia to good starts and a player of Warner's calibre having to fit in somewhere.
And on Sunday night at the Punjab Cricket Association stadium there were queries as to why captain Steve Smith didn't throw the ball more to Australia's outstanding bowler of the tournament, Adam Zampa. The leg-spinner sent down only two overs, and for just 11 runs.
Instead, Smith went with all seamers – James Faulkner, Shane Watson, Nathan Coulter-Nile and Josh Hazlewood – in the last seven overs and explained that he believed that was the best approach as Kohli and MS Dhoni were "just starting to go".
Lehmann and Smith both argued the squad of 15 was the right one – they were missing the injured Mitchell Starc and Pat Cummins – but bemoaned their losses of key moments and their batting shortcomings in the middle overs.
"I think we were pretty right with all that," Lehmann said. "You would have liked see Warner score more runs. He probably had a quiet tournament but that's understandable occasionally.
"You're there to make runs all the time but sometimes you struggle. I think Usman was fantastic. I would have liked him to go on with it if there's one criticism. [Shane] Watson floating up and then down was good. I think our bowling attack we made the best of the conditions. If anything it was the eight runs against New Zealand that cost us when we were 1-60 off about seven … we should have got those runs."
Against India, Kohli's innings was of such an elevated level that the Australians could only respond with adulation. Watson, who spent time with his family on the ground after his last game for Australia, tweeted that he was privileged to have seen it up close; Glenn Maxwell said they had been beaten by "one cricketing genius".
"We are disappointed we got knocked out but we got beaten by one bloke," Lehmann said.
"That can happen in the nature of T20. That was the best T20 innings I've seen for a long time. I think everyone is probably in awe of that innings itself."
Australia will be back here for a Test series early next year and know what to expect.
"We know how they're going to play. They're going to make Bunsen burners and make it turn, that's just the way it is," Lehmann said. "Maybe we should make it green and fly through when they come to Australia. We don't though."
One player who won't return is Watson, who was excellent in his final international and Lehmann paid tribute to him.
"He replaced me as a Test player – I got the arse for him which is fine and they did the right thing then," he said.
"I think he's been harshly done by sometimes, more the public, than anything else. He's been a fantastic player, a fantastic bloke around the group. The players love him and he's been an exceptional player for us, and [we're] really sorry we didn't get to send him out the right way by winning a few more games."