Marcus Stoinis is in doubt for the Champions Trophy just over two weeks out from Australia’s first warm-up match after injuring his shoulder in the IPL. Who, then, are his potential replacements?
The all-rounder will later this week get scans on his shoulder, which he hurt during a fielding warm-up with his IPL team Kings XI Punjab on Friday.
Australia will be very reticent to take a risk on Stoinis given there are already concerns about the health of squad members Mitchell Starc and Chris Lynn. Fast bowler Starc has been on the sidelines since suffering a stress fracture in his foot during the Test series in India two months ago.
Attacking batsman Lynn, meanwhile, has only just returned from yet another injury. The physically fragile Queenslander missed almost a month of the IPL after injuring his left shoulder diving in the field in an IPL game in early April. That was the third time in two years he had injured the same shoulder.
With David Warner, Aaron Finch and Steve Smith the only other specialist batsmen in Australia’s 15-man squad, Australia are light on for batting options. They went heavy on batting all-rounders picking Stoinis, Travis Head, Glenn Maxwell and Moises Henriques.
That was a gamble considering Australia’s middle order has been the weakest component of its ODI side for the past 18 months now. The selectors decided against picking a solid batsman who could provide a steady middle order presence like George Bailey, Shaun Marsh or Callum Ferguson, or including another top-order batsman in Usman Khawaja.
If Stoinis’ injury is serious, or if he is deemed too big a risk to take to England, the selectors may change tack and replace him with a specialist batsman. Why? Because there are no batting all-rounders left in Australia who offer an attractive option.
Mitch Marsh, arguably Australia’s best batting all-rounder, is out injured. His Western Australia teammate Hilton Cartwright was included in Australia’s ODI squad for the home series against New Zealand last December but did not play a game.
Cartwright is a fantastic first-class cricketer and deserves to be next in line for a Test middle order berth. But he is still very much a work-in-progress as a white ball cricketer and has a poor List A record, averaging 26 with the bat and 39 with the ball.
Australia have a far better batting all-rounder already in their squad in Henriques. The NSW captain has been in stunning form with the blade over the past three years, making 882 runs at an average of 55 in the domestic One Day competition.
Henriques is currently having a sensational IPL campaign, averaging 57 with the bat, and is fresh from a dominant Sheffield Shield season, in which he piled up 775 runs at 65. He is in the form of his career. While he has tended to underbowl himself as captain of NSW, Henriques is a decent stump-to-stump medium pacer who is just as useful with the ball as Stoinis.
If Stoinis is unavailable then Henriques, Maxwell and Head would provide Australia with sufficient all-rounder options. That is why Stoinis’ replacement, if required, should be a specialist batsman not another all-rounder like Cartwright.
Khawaja could be in the mix. But, as an opening batsman, it could count against him that there are already three players in Warner, Finch and Head whose best position is at the top of the order. Australia would be tempted to pick a middle order specialist like Bailey, or a versatile player such as Shaun Marsh, who has batted in every single position in the order from one to seven across his 53 ODIs.
In a squad already boasting aggressive ball strikers in Warner, Finch, Lynn, Maxwell and Head, a more subtle strokemaker like Bailey or Marsh could provide some required balance.
There is a very real chance, however, that Khawaja, Bailey and Marsh all could be leapfrogged by Peter Handscomb. The 26-year-old Victorian has made a fantastic start to his Test career, averaging 54 after eight matches, and earned his ODI debut against Pakistan in January.
He underwhelmed in his five ODIs, scoring just 90 runs at an average of 22. Handscomb, Bailey and Marsh each have one major advantage over Khawaja – they are currently playing and in good form.
Khawaja hasn’t played a professional match in almost four months. Meanwhile, Marsh is having a very good IPL season, averaging 44 with the bat. Bailey has made 152 runs at 76 in three matches for Hampshire in England’s domestic One Day Cup.
And Handscomb is dominating that competition with 407 runs at 102 and a scorching strike rate of 113. That ballistic form, combined with the fact he is a middle order specialist, may well earn him a Champions Trophy berth if Stoinis is ruled out in the coming days.