The uncapped trio of Daniel Sams, Jono Wells and Josh Philippe are using the BBL to push for a spot in Australia’s T20 World Cup squad.
Australia have been in fine form in T20s, with a win-loss record of 19-9 across their past 30 matches, and the core of their side appears to be locked in.
There are eight players – David Warner, Aaron Finch, Steve Smith, Glenn Maxwell, Mitchell Starc, Pat Cummins, Adam Zampa and Ashton Agar – who seem to have firm positions in the line-up. That leaves three spots that appear most up for grabs: the final middle-order berth, the wicketkeeper role and the third quick.
Australia will play ten T20s in the next five months as they seek to bed down their starting XI and expected 15-man squad for the World Cup.
That run of T20s begins next month with a three-match series in South Africa followed by three T20s in New Zealand in late March and then one T20 against Scotland and three against England in the UK from late June.
Here are three dark horses, uncapped at international level, who are making a run at World Cup selection in the BBL
Daniel Sams, 27 years old
Fast bowling all-rounder, 47 wickets at 18 with an economy rate of 8.16 in T20s
In the past two years Australia have churned through a big number of fast bowlers in T20s. Starc, Cummins, Andrew Tye, Billy Stanlake, Nathan Coulter-Nile, Jhye Richardson, Kane Richardson, Sean Abbott, Jason Behrendorff and Jack Wildermuth all have had opportunities.
I get the sense Starc and Cummins are seen as the first two quicks picked in Australia’s T20 XI alongside spinners Adam Zampa and Ashton Agar. Because Agar can bat at No. 7, that leaves room for a third specialist quick in the XI.
Outside of the starting line-up Australia could potentially pick two back-up quicks in their World Cup squad for a total of five fast bowlers. Starc, Cummins and the two Richardsons are the front runners, but beyond that quartet there is no standout candidate, which is why Sams’ dominant form could yet vault him into the squad.
Across the past two BBL seasons Sam has hoarded 40 wickets at 17 to be the best-performed Aussie paceman in the competition. He can swing the new ball, uses his changeups well through the middle overs, bowls well at the death and has the advantage of being a left-armer. The Aussie selectors could also be swayed by his value with the bat.
Although he’s rarely been needed to make runs in T20 cricket, Sams has a lot of ability with the blade, having made four 50s from just 19 innings across his Sheffield Shield and domestic one-day career. A powerful hitter he is well suited to the lower order in T20s.
Jono Wells, 31 years old
Middle-order batsman, 1915 runs at 35 with a strike rate of 124 in T20s
Lots of domestic cricketers have purple patches, but far fewer are able to put together impressive seasons back to back, whether in the BBL, one-day Cup or Sheffield Shield. Wells has managed to do just that, underlining that he is not just on a hot streak but is actually a quality T20 batsman.
In the previous BBL he made 359 runs at 45 (strike rate 125) and so far this season he has piled up 444 runs at 74 (strike rate 136).
Wells has been a revelation for Adelaide since moving from the Hobart Hurricanes. The right-hander has turned himself into a specialist middle-order batsman, which makes him more appealing to Australia, who have a glut of top-order options but not many players making strong cases to bat at five or six.
Josh Philippe, 22 years old
Wicketkeeper-batsman, 712 runs at 32 with a strike rate of 137 in T20s
Alex Carey has been outstanding in the middle order in ODIs, with 616 runs at 44 across his past 20 innings with a strike rate of 100. Yet he remains unproven with the blade in T20s, having averaged 14 from his 13 knocks.
While I expect Carey to be picked for Australia’s T20 series in South Africa next month, if he continues to underwhelm in this format, Australia may be forced to look elsewhere.
Although he hasn’t been keeping of late, the in-form Matt Wade would be one alternative. Josh Inglis from the Perth Scorchers has also earned lots of fans this BBL season, with the likes of Tim Paine, Ricky Ponting, Shane Warne and Brad Haddin all heaping praise on him.
Then there’s 22-year-old Sydney Sixers gloveman Philippe, who has a similar number of high-profile admirers. While Philippe’s glovework is adequate at best, he is outrageously talented with the blade.
A modern 360-degree batsman, Philippe is hyper-aggressive against pace and nimble and destructive against spin.
The West Australian’s main drawback is that he’s played mostly as an opener and Australia want to bat their wicketkeeper at five or six.