Australia seem to be on the verge of dropping Glenn Maxwell for today’s semi-final against England, which would leave them with a worrying lack of middle-order power.
Comments made by coach Justin Langer and captain Aaron Finch suggest Peter Handscomb and Marcus Stoinis will play, while Matthew Wade is a strong chance to replace Maxwell.
Finch told the media Steve Smith was likely to move up to number three and that if Wade did play he would be positioned “near the top” of the order.
Piecing all of this together, it seems Australia are looking at a top five of Finch, David Warner, Smith, Wade and Handscomb. That leaves Stoinis and wicketkeeper-batsman Alex Carey at six and seven, with the all-rounder needing to bat ahead of Carey because of how slowly he starts his innings.
Stoinis is best suited to batting in the top four – his constant dawdling starts make him a liability in the middle order.
If the pitch is a belter and Australia find themselves needing to set or chase a big total against England’s high-scoring lineup, then having Stoinis at six or seven instead of Maxwell will put huge pressure on Carey, who is the only batsman listed above between five and seven with a proven ability to strike boundaries regularly from the start of his innings.
Maxwell has been granted patience because of his ability to score so much faster than anyone else in the lineup. This year, he has averaged 34 in ODIs while scoring at 8.04 runs per over. Stoinis, meanwhile, has averaged 25 while scoring at 4.85.
Given the solidity of Australia’s top five, and Carey’s hot form at seven, what they are most likely to need out of their number six is not an accumulator-style innings but a sprinting 40 or so.
Based on their strike rates this year, to make 40 runs Stoinis chews up 50 balls compared to just 30 deliveries for Maxwell, which makes it clear cut who is the better option to bat at six against the fastest-scoring team in ODI cricket.
Not only would the above predicted batting lineup place greater responsibility on Carey to score at a scorching rate, it would also put added pressure on the top three to be more aggressive.
Australia’s batting method in this World Cup has been to build slowly. They have looked to minimise risks in their first 30-35 overs, keep wickets in hand, then attack.
With Handscomb, Stoinis and Carey at five, six and seven, could Australia be confident of blazing 100 from the final ten overs? I don’t think so. No one in the world scores as quickly from their first 20 balls at the crease as Maxwell. It is this rare ability that Australia have nurtured, seemingly waiting for a day like today.
Now that the day has arrived, they instead look set to go with a batting all-rounder in Stoinis, who has been awful with the blade for his past 25 ODIs and has just suffered two side strains.
Australia’s think thank have done a solid job of late with their selections. But keeping Stoinis and axing Maxwell would be a mistake.