In years gone by, the uproar from the Australian selectors’ snubbing of Marcus Stoinis for the T20 squad to South Africa this week might have been much louder.
Cricket is inherently a numbers game, and on numbers alone Stoinis has left all others in his wake this Big Bash season, one in which he’s been named as this season’s player of the tournament.
Averaging 57.9 and having scored a record-breaking 147 not out along with six half-centuries, it’s been a season to remember for the Melbourne Stars opener.
It’s also one which, in previous years, may have seen him an automatic lock in upcoming internationals. A 50-plus average, in the shortest (and therefore riskiest) format of the game, might have rubber-stamped his selection. But on Tuesday, Stoinis was left out of Australia’s 14-man squad for South Africa.
And barring a sprinkling of disapproval on this site and others, protests against his snubbing were limited. While cynics could argue this was reflective of disinterest in the squad announcement, there’s always fascination when chief selector Trevor Hohns fronts a press conference.
And few, including myself, thought Stoinis was hard done by.
While he has been brilliant this season, Stoinis must complete a bigger body of work to knock David Warner and Aaron Finch from their perch as Australian T20 openers. But more importantly, given his struggles starting innings outside the power play, Stoinis’ current skillset makes him an inflexible option for selectors.
That is, he could open the batting in international T20 cricket, but is handy in few other positions. As such, the selectors shrewdly opted for Matthew Wade as not only cover for Warner and Finch, but an option who could slot in down the order too.
The lack of outcry, again, may have been from indifference. But it may also signal a wider fan understanding of the T20 format and the differences in interpreting statistics when compared to years gone by. While Stoinis’ average in BBL|09 is superb, it’s no longer batting statistics that govern all.
With the fielding restrictions in place, opening the batting is a far easier prospect than striding to the wicket in the final overs with fielders on the rope and little time to adjust.
There is now a greater understanding that batting in overs 1-5 is markedly more straightforward than overs 15-20. Players that excel in the latter, like Stoinis’ teammate Glenn Maxwell, are like hen’s teeth. Another of these rare types is the Strikers’ Jono Wells, who summed up the difference well this week.
“I think if you ask any batsman what their preference would be they probably say the top three, purely on the numbers, you have the opportunity to face as many balls as you can, also having fielding restrictions,” Wells told ESPNcricinfo.
“The actual middle-order role is one of the toughest in T20 cricket and I think it’s a bit of a niche position where not everyone can do it. I think a lot of players could go up the top and do a similar type of job, but through the middle if you can nail that position then it’s very good for a team to have someone in that position they can rely on and can play a few different scenarios.”
This is not to downplay Stoinis’ obvious achievements this year, which deserve praise. But it is to say his omission was nothing surprising from the selectors, which was reflected by the reaction.
It’s not just appreciating the difference in times to bat in T20s that has developed a wider understanding. ‘Pace-off’ deliveries have become part of the vernacular, as have the appreciation of slower bouncers, offside yorkers, ramps and paddles.
Prominent T20 writers and analysts Tim Wigmore and Freddie Wilde’s recently released Cricket 2.0 charts the rise of T20 from 2003 until today and is the first real study of the format. They argue that wider understanding of the format’s tactics have been gallingly slow.
This is likely due to a legacy of being initially seen as a ‘gimmick’, and the inevitable comparisons with red-ball cricket.
“The nature of T20’s inception, as a marketing tool as much as a serious sporting contest, and the complexities of the game itself, informed early coverage of it. Lots was said about T20’s impact on the sport, very little was said about the game itself,” they wrote.
“During this first era of T20 the format has suffered both in media perception and in tactical reality because of comparisons to longer forms of cricket.”
Slowly, there’s a greater understanding of the true chasm between the different formats of the game. Fans are beginning to realise that the traditional set of numbers that informed debate about players in Test and even ODI cricket can no longer be viewed in isolation.
A bowler might have a seemingly mediocre average and economy rate, but if they are consistently bowling at the death then their 8-an-over is invaluable for a captain.
Similarly, a batter might average just 25 but if they strike at 160 in the death overs, again, they could well be first picked in many teams.
T20 is a tougher format to compute and understand statistically, but as a cricketing public we’re slowly making the transition.