Australia’s decision to replace the injured Glenn Maxwell with opener D’Arcy Short for the white-ball tour of South Africa has exposed their lack of middle-order options and opened a World Cup door for Matt Wade.
Maxwell was expected to bat at No. 4 in Australia’s T20 side and No. 6 in the ODIs, yet he was replaced by Short, who has had no success outside of the top order in limited-overs cricket.
In his 38 List A matches Short has batted at No. 5 or lower just seven times, making 100 runs at 20 at a strike rate of 81. Meanwhile, in T20 cricket, Short has opened in most of his matches and has batted outside of the top three just once in 83 games.
He is an odd replacement for Maxwell, whose most unique skill in both formats is his ability to blast quality spin from ball one.
By comparison, it was Short’s propensity to get bogged down against good spinners which stalled his T20 career and saw him flop in the Indian Premier League.
If he is to take Maxwell’s place in Australia’s middle order in either T20s or ODIs then Short often will have to start against spin. It is not an impossible task for the West Australian.
He may well surprise me. But there is little doubt that Short is far better suited to beginnings his innings in the power play against pace with the field up.
The same goes for BBL leading runscorer Marcus Stoinis, who was overlooked for this tour of SA.
The selection of Short highlights Australia’s dearth of destructive middle-order batsmen in white-ball cricket. Top-order batsmen dominated the runscorers tables in this summer’s BBL and the domestic One Day Cup.
In both formats Australia badly lack middle-order batsmen who can intimidate opponents.
That is why, for all the criticism of Maxwell’s inconsistency, he keeps getting picked for Australia. There is not another batsman in the country who can score anywhere near as quickly as him in the middle order in white-ball cricket.
Stoinis teased the selectors by averaging 66 with the bat at a scorching strike rate of 107 in his first 11 ODIs. Since then, however, Stoinis has averaged just 24 at a dawdling strike rate of 82 in his past 30 ODIs.
They may also have thought they’d struck gold when Ashton Turner bludgeoned an extraordinary 84* from 43 balls to pull off a miracle ODI win in India 11 months ago. But Turner has otherwise laboured in his brief white-ball career for Australia and is in a deep form trough at the domestic level.
Finding middle-order batsmen who can wreak havoc like Maxwell is remarkably difficult. There are only a handful of cricketers on the planet who can arrive at the crease with the field set deep, facing quality spin or pace and immediately begin scoring at a lightning rate.
Maxwell is particularly crucial in T20s, a format in which he is among the top five most valuable batsmen in the world.
In his last 30 innings in T20s Maxwell has piled up 1168 runs at 51 while scoring at 9.7 runs per over. Among the top ten runscorers in T20s in that same period, Maxwell is the only batsman who averages more than 40 while also scoring at better than 9.0 runs per over.
Meanwhile, in ODIs, Maxwell is one of only two men in history who have a career average of 30-plus while maintaining a strike rate of better than 115, the other being England’s Jos Buttler.
First crack at replacing Maxwell in both of Australia’s white-ball teams may not go to Short. Instead Maxwell’s absence could hand a gilded opportunity to the in-form Wade. The former wicketkeeper may not have made the starting line-ups of either side had Maxwell been fit.
Suddenly Wade is a strong chance to find himself in Australia’s XI for both formats when their tour of South Africa starts next week. The left-hander is an explosive batsman with the power and range of strokes to be effective in the middle order.
Unlike Short, Wade has vast experience in that role, having batted at No. 5 or lower in 60 of his 80 ODI innings. His batting record in ODIs is undeniably ordinary, yet it is also inarguable that he is a vastly improved batsman since giving up the gloves.
Maxwell’s injury may now give Wade three ODIs and three T20s to press his case for inclusion in this year’s World Cup.