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Peter Handscomb can play a key role in T20s against India

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Expert
19th February, 2019
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Australia will start their T20 series in India this Sunday in need of arresting a recent run of poor form in Asia.

Four months ago, when they went to the UAE to tackle the world’s number one T20 team, Pakistan, Australia would have arrived brimming with confidence, having won 17 of their previous 25 matches in the format.

The tourists were promptly thumped 3-0.

That series should have taught Australia the importance of having a balanced approach to batting in Asian conditions. On the harder, truer pitches in Australia, England, South Africa and New Zealand, teams can afford to stack their top six with power hitters and aim to blast their way to totals of 190-plus.

That is just what Australia did as they cruised to victory over England and New Zealand in last year’s tri-series, which was hosted in Australia and New Zealand. Across five matches, Australia incredibly scored at just under 10 runs per over.

In Asia, however, it is not necessary to aim for monstrous totals. Greater versatility and finesse is required with the blade. This was on show in Australia’s disastrous series in the UAE, when Pakistan gave them a lesson in how to bat the conditions.

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In each match, Pakistan batted around one solid batsman – Babar Azam. The young right-hander did not look to take on the bowlers and manufacture boundaries. Instead, he focused on working ones and twos and punishing the odd ball that begged to be hit.

The stability he offered allowed batsmen around him to attack. Even then, few of the Pakistani players threw their bats mindlessly – most made avoiding dot balls their priority.

Meanwhile, Australia’s batsmen continually followed the pattern of dot, dot, big shot, dot, dot, big shot.

Their reliance on boundaries and lack of respect for strike rotation was the key reason for the losses. Quite ridiculously, Australia faced 20 more dot balls per innings than Pakistan across that series. Australia badly missed banned star Steve Smith, who while a somewhat unfashionable T20 cricketer, is exactly the sort of accumulator they lacked.

Peter Handscomb (left) and Steve Smith of Australia

AAP Image/Richard Wainwright

In India, Australia’s batting line-up will again be laced with boundary merchants. The only proven strike rotator is Peter Handscomb, who did this job impressively in the recent ODIs against India.

The likes of captain Aaron Finch, D’Arcy Short, Marcus Stoinis, Glenn Maxwell and Usman Khawaja all tend to prefer scoring in blocks of four and six, which is why it would be worth batting Handscomb at three to anchor the innings, giving the others the licence to tee off.

Although Handscomb is fresh from an ordinary BBL campaign, there is no one else who could comfortably play this role.

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If the Aussies instead look to blast the Indian bowlers it could get very ugly, very quickly. That approach may work on hard, true pitches elsewhere, but it’s a more dangerous approach on many Indian decks.

Consider that India’s average score when batting first at home has been a solid but unspectacular 174 over the past three years. This is a line-up bursting with power, experience and class, yet even they haven’t been able to consistently pile up big scores in their home conditions.

In that time India’s best batsman has been Virat Kohli. The superstar has scored at a relatively modest rate of 8.1 runs per over, anchoring his team’s innings, as Azam did for Pakistan. Like Azam, the Indian skipper allows few dot balls.

Australia cannot afford to go dot, dot, big shot throughout this series or they will be flogged again.

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Australia’s best XI
1. Aaron Finch (c)
2. D’Arcy Short
3. Peter Handscomb
4. Glenn Maxwell
5. Marcus Stoinis
6. Ashton Turner
7. Alex Carey (wk)
8. Nathan Coulter-Nile
9. Jhye Richardson
10. Adam Zampa
11. Nathan Lyon

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Australia’s T20 squad for the tour of India
Aaron Finch (c), D’Arcy Short, Marcus Stoinis, Glenn Maxwell, Ashton Turner, Peter Handscomb, Alex Carey, Nathan Coulter-Nile, Jhye Richardson, Adam Zampa, Nathan Lyon, Shaun Marsh, Usman Khawaja, Jason Behrendorff, Pat Cummins