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Opinion

Langer has Australia purring in T20Is

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3 days ago
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Australia’s greatest T20 challenges may lay ahead of them, but the progress they’ve made under Justin Langer is clear. The Aussies last night completed a 5-0 run across their series against Pakistan and Sri Lanka.

At Perth Stadium they kept Pakistan to just 8-106, thanks to fine spells from Kane Richardson (3-18 from four overs), Sean Abbott (2-14 from four), Billy Stanlake (0-19 from four), Mitchell Starc (2-29 from four) and Ashton Agar (1-25 from four).

Then, Aaron Finch (52* from 36 balls) and David Warner (48* from 35 balls) helped them canter to the easiest of ten-wicket wins.

Since Justin Langer took over as coach last year, Australia have recorded an impressive 12-8 win-loss record in T20Is. Most importantly, they have won their past three T20 series, including a 2-0 win away from home against the commanding Indian side.

They would very likely be the number one ranked T20 team in the world right now if not for rain washing out the first match against Pakistan in Sydney, where Australia were bossing the tourists.

When Langer took over he was handed a group of players shattered by the ball tampering scandal in South Africa. He could not call upon the banned pair of David Warner and Smith, nor pace stars Pat Cummins and Mitchell Starc, who were continually rested from the shortest format.

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Now that he has a full complement of players to choose from, Langer has the Aussie side sauntering. Australia didn’t just beat Pakistan and Sri Lanka, they demolished them. With the ball, the Aussie quicks consistently made inroads in the Power Play and excelled at the death, while their spinners choked the run rate in the middle overs.

With the bat, Australia’s top four ran amok, thumping swing, seam, cutters, express pace, slower balls, bouncers, full balls, off breaks, leg breaks, googlies – the lot. Questions remain over the makeup of their middle order. Yet those batsmen barely were required across these six T20Is the past fortnight.

Aaron Finch (207 runs at 52, with a strike rate of 162 in these six matches) looks to be back to the scorching touch that previously earned him a long stay as the world’s number one ranked T20 batsman. The skipper remains brutal through the leg side, and murderous against spin, yet has also clearly improved his off side play.

The Sri Lankan and Pakistani bowlers regularly looked at a loss for plans to stall Finch’s momentum.

David Warner (287 runs at 287, with a strike rate of 146), meanwhile, is categorically in career-best T20 form. Since the start of the 2019 IPL season, Warner has piled up 979 runs at 89 in this format. Those are truly gobsmacking numbers.

What’s more is that he hasn’t just been slugging attacks, but rather pacing his innings perfectly depending upon conditions and circumstances. On the rare occasions Finch has looked slightly bogged down Warner has upped the ante. When Finch has been cutting loose, Warner has been happy to operate in his slipstream.

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Make no mistake, they are the world’s top T20 opening pair. Followed by Steve Smith and Glenn Maxwell – Australia’s best T20 batsman over the past three years – you have the strongest top four in the world. That’s fortunate, in more ways than one for Australia, as their middle order looks decidedly ropey.

But in T20s your top four is paramount, especially on the true Australian pitches where next year’s World Cup will be played.

It would be unwise, though, to focus too heavily on Australia’s destructive batting. Their bowlers deserve equal praise. Across these six matches they conceded scores of 9-99, 8-106, 5-107, 117, 6-142, and 6-150. Only for very brief periods did an opposition batting line-up gain the ascendancy.

Starc (eight wickets at 15), Richardson (eight wickets at 18), Agar (seven wickets at 19), Cummins (seven wickets at 16), Zampa (five wickets at 25), Stanlake (two wickets 21) and Abbott (two wickets at 7) all went at well below seven runs an over.

They received excellent support from their fieldsmen. It was, across all six games, a very well-rounded performance by Australia. They batted, bowled and fielded like a team that can win next year’s World Cup. Yet that goal remains distant and they will face tougher foes in the coming months, including India and New Zealand. After those series we will get a far sharper image of where Australia stand as a T20 side.

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Right now, though, things couldn’t be rosier for Langer and his men.