Australia coach Justin Langer believes disgraced David Warner and Steve Smith are ready for a hostile reception from South African supporters when they play in a three-match Twenty20 International series starting in Johannesburg on Friday.
Alex Ross is the man that can help Australia win its first T20 World Cup when the nation hosts the tournament later in 2020.
Of the nine nations that have featured in all six editions of the tournament, only New Zealand and Bangladesh have worse overall winning percentages, highlighting the disappointing results Australia has had in the format.
A key issue in Australia’s past performances in the tournament has been a lack of intelligent selections in the batting order, often choosing names over form and specialty batsmen for the positions.
In the 2016 T20 World Cup the Australian team didn’t make the top four, in part due to the structure of the batting order. David Warner batted at No. 3 and No. 4 throughout the tournament, while Shane Watson was used at No. 6 and Peter Nevill at No. 8.
Using openers in different positions throughout a T20 tournament can occasionally work, so long as the team is batting first and freedom is given.
However, Australia has struggled when chasing against quality attacks, and players who were unfamiliar with the positions they were batting in generally failed to provide the output expected from the position.
In BBL|09 Beau Webster and Jono Wells have taken the headlines for their outstanding performances, with some even suggesting the two could be options for the national team for the World Cup.
Yet it’s Ross, who has 553 runs at 34.56 at a strike rate of 132.30 over the past three seasons, who should be seen as the premier middle-order option for Australia going forward in the T20 format.
Having established himself as a T20 specialist, Ross is a reliable, smart cricketer who has crafted his game to excel as a pure middle-order batsman.
The 27-year-old moved from the Brisbane Heat to the Sydney Thunder this season and has taken on even more responsibility in a team that has been known to collapse.
What Alex Ross can provide Australia is a player who is truly adaptable to any situation.
Seemingly acknowledging a need to bring in specialist batsmen, Australia tried to utilise Ben McDermott and Ashton Turner through the middle order earlier in the summer.
McDermott has since been batting in the middle order for the Hurricanes, which has been detrimental to the franchise but is perhaps an indication of brighter pastures for the player himself on an international scale.
Turner hasn’t been himself since returning from injury, and the continued overall struggles of certain players in limited-overs cricket lend themselves to Australia rewarding prolonged BBL form and nailing a strong batting order.
Affectionately known as the ‘Sweepologist’, Ross’s introduction into the national T20 set-up now will not only assist Australia with the World Cup towards the end of this year but also the 2021 edition, which will be played in India.
Keeping an eye on both tournaments, it will be highly beneficial for the Australians to pick players who are good against spin, given the damage slower bowlers have in T20 cricket.
As with any batsman, Ross has his flaws. He is susceptible early against quick bowling on middle-to-leg stump. Teams who target that area can drastically reduce his strike rate.
Yet his poorer performances have proven to be an aberration, as Ross generally puts together consistently solid knocks to help make his teams competitive.
With Dave Warner, Aaron Finch, Marcus Stoinis and D’Arcy Short all fighting over the top two or three positions in the batting order and with Steve Smith, Maxwell and Alex Carey locks in the team, adding in Alex Ross to float between No. 5 and No. 7 is the perfect move to take Australia to the next level.
The most successful teams in world T20 cricket give players clearly defined roles, allowing the team to function as a machine rather than relying on individuals.
Melbourne Renegades did it with the likes of Dan Christian, Tom Cooper and Mohammed Nabi in BBL|08 on a domestic level, while England has relied on Eoin Morgan for years to play an adaptable role in the middle order internationally.
Australia needs to ensure it builds a well-rounded team in order to be successful in T20 tournaments. The star power already exists; now it’s time to nail the rest of the team to create a machine that needn’t rely on any one player.
It’s time Alex Ross represented Australia in T20 cricket to give the team one less headache going forward.