A diamond-duck for an in-form opener, a dodgy LB for the skipper and a lethal yorker… not a great start for the Aussies.
Australia are resurrecting the T20 careers of Steve Smith and Pat Cummins ahead of next year’s World Cup.
Australia yesterday announced a 14-man squad for the two upcoming series against Sri Lanka and Pakistan, which start 18 days from now, with the most notable omissions being D’Arcy Short and Marcus Stoinis.
Smith and Cummins, meanwhile, were surprise inclusions, Smith having not played an international T20 in more than three years, while Cummins has played just six across the past five years.
Their selections represent a clear change in strategy one year out from the T20 World Cup, which will be held Down Under.
Smith’s last T20 was in early 2016 and his last BBL appearance was more than five years ago. He has, however, been a fixture in the IPL, averaging 37 at a strike rate of 129.
Yet there are genuine questions about his value, having scored at just 7.16 runs per over across his past two IPL seasons. As a point of comparison, David Warner scored at 8.6 runs per over across those same two seasons.
Meanwhile, over the past two years, top-order stars Aaron Finch and Glenn Maxwell have scored at 10.3 and 9.0 runs per over respectively.
Perhaps, then, the selectors feel the rapid scoring rates of Warner, Finch and Maxwell allows room for Smith to anchor the innings.
Smith doesn’t have the ability to blast boundaries from ball one. As he has worked to reduce risk from his play in Tests, helping him dominate that format, he has become a less dynamic white-ball batsman. He does, however, have 12 months to hone his T20 skills for the World Cup.
Given his enormous ability and incredible dedication, maybe he can use that time to take his short-format batting to another level.
The same goes for Cummins. The logic seems to be that if he is an elite bowler in Tests and ODIs, then why can’t he replicate that in T20s?
Although he has barely played T20 cricket for Australia, his career record is impressive: 25 wickets at 21 with a frugal economy rate of 6.98 runs per over.
During his six-year absence from Test cricket due to constant injuries, T20 became Cummins’s main format because of its lesser physical demands. He now has a one-year run at the shortest format to push his case for World Cup selection.
Stoinis and Short both have had major setbacks in their pursuit of a World Cup berth, having been mainstays of the Aussie side over the past two years.
Stoinis’ axing is a wise move considering his batting average of 15 at a slow strike rate and a bowling average of 35 at a high economy rate.
That leaves Maxwell as Australia’s only batting all-rounder in the squad. Yet in his last 20 T20s, Maxwell has bowled less than one over per match on average. It seems unlikely Australia will want to have to get a full complement of four overs from him every match.
Instead, they will likely bat Ashton Agar at seven to give the side five strong bowling options, with Maxwell as back-up.
Realistically, this top six is strong enough that the No.7 will rarely have to do much with the blade. Agar is sufficiently talented to chip in with cameos when needed and during 13 matches in the T20 side last year his left-arm orthodox spin went at just 6.97 runs per over.
Agar is far from the finished article and is not a big wicket-taker, but he is worth investing in because of the balance he could add if he finds his feet.
Having Agar at seven would allow for two frontline spinners as well as three specialist quicks. Australia named five fast bowlers in this squad – Cummins, Mitchell Starc, Billy Stanlake, Andrew Tye and Kane Richardson.
Starc at his best is a dominant T20 bowler. Stanlake and Tye, meanwhile, have been good over the past two years.
Richardson is an odd choice. The other Richardson – Jhye – is a much more talented and multi-faceted short-form cricketer. Kane was the leading wicket-taker in the BBL last summer but has played 31 limited-overs internationals for Australia without ever really looking like he belongs. James Faulkner or Jhye Richardson would have been better options.
Australia’s squad against Sri Lanka and Pakistan
Aaron Finch (c), Ashton Agar, Alex Carey, Pat Cummins, Glenn Maxwell, Ben McDermott, Kane Richardson, Steve Smith, Billy Stanlake, Mitchell Starc, Ashton Turner, Andrew Tye, David Warner, Adam Zampa.
Australia’s best line-up