Two games in a row Australia have fielded poorly balanced sides due to fitness concerns around all-rounder Marcus Stoinis. It’s time for Australia to bite the bullet and replace the out-of-form Stoinis with Mitchell Marsh.
Despite Stoinis having been the weakest link in Australia’s ODI side over the past year, the selectors are rather strangely happy for the squad to be one man down while they wait for him to recover from a side strain.
Over the past year Stoinis has averaged just 23 with the bat from 23 ODIs, all while scoring at a dawdling rate of 4.88 runs per over. Meanwhile, with the ball he has averaged 38 at a sky-high economy rate of 6.36 runs per over.
Just as concerning as his lack of runs is his defensive batting style, which is out of place at No. 5 or No. 6 in an ODI order and has been affecting the balance of Australia’s line-up.
Stoinis has been patently out of form for the last two-thirds of his entire ODI career. Yet the selectors seem to be clinging to the hope he will begin batting like the man who thrashed 146* in just his second ODI.
The problem is that the further away we get from that phenomenal performance in New Zealand, the more it looks like an anomaly.
Cricket history is lined with players who charged onto the international scene, flourished for a period and then faded away. At first they caught opponents off guard. Then, once teams had time to analyse them, they identified flaws and planned accordingly.
For some time now Stoinis’ opponents seem to have noted how slowly he starts his innings and how unnatural it is for him to rotate the strike. Whereas for most ODI batsmen the infielders hang back on the edge of the circle, trying to stop boundaries rather than prevent singles, when Stoinis arrives at the crease watch how these same fieldsmen creep in.
They know he rarely displays aggression in his first 20 balls at the crease and that he also is not comfortable deflecting the ball into gaps. So the infielders come in off the circle to crowd Stoinis.
In the past year Stoinis has reached 20 balls faced in 11 ODI innings, and these were the number of runs he had after 20 balls: four, nine, nine, ten, ten, 11, 13, 15, 17, 20, 24.
That underscores just how often Stoinis plods along in his first seven overs or so at the crease. ODI batsmen stationed at five or six in the order rarely have the luxury to start their innings with such little urgency.
That is particularly so if the top order is doing a good job, meaning the middle order batsmen arrive in the last 15 to 20 overs of the innings with a need to score swiftly from the get-go.
Australia’s middle order is being given terrific platforms thanks to Aaron Finch, David Warner and Steve Smith, who combined have churned out 867 runs at 62 in this tournament. The role of numbers five, six and seven, then, is to capitalise on these good starts by taking on the bowlers.
Stoinis quite clearly prefers not to do this. He likes to take his time, but right now time is at a premium.
Can Mitch Marsh offer greater potency with the blade at five? His ODI record suggests he can, but he is also coming in cold, having not played in this format for Australia for more than a year.
But with Stoinis having been categorically proven to be bereft of form and to have a batting style which does not mesh with his role, where is the risk in replacing him with Marsh?
One major selling point with Marsh is his sensational ODI record against the three teams Australia are most likely to have to face should they make the semi-finals: England, India and New Zealand.
In 26 matches against those three sides Marsh has scored 781 runs at 41 (strike rate of 101), while also taking 29 wickets at 25. Consistently across his ODI career he has been at his best against the strongest ODI teams.
There is little doubt Australia would be better balanced with a second all-rounder in their top six alongside Glenn Maxwell. While they have got away with fielding only one all-rounder in their past two matches, against Sri Lanka and Pakistan, that would be a big gamble against much stronger batting units like India and England.
Australia’s next match is against Bangladesh on Thursday. With England and New Zealand to follow after that, this match against Bangladesh has a lower profile and less pressure. It is the easiest possible time to introduce Marsh during this tournament.
It would be folly to instead try to nurse an out-of-form Stoinis through the rest of this World Cup.