‘Thanks champ, we’ll have a bowl.’
A high-scoring shootout looms when Australia begin their three-match T20 series in South Africa on Friday.
The Proteas are fresh from hosting a slogfest series, which England won narrowly, in which conditions were so good that the average total for the team batting first was a whopping 201.
The first two matches were decided from the last ball, and in the third match England chased down a massive total of 222 in the final over. That deciding match saw an extraordinary 28 sixes launched over the short boundaries in Centurion.
If conditions are similar against Australia, the tourists may need to change tack.
Over the past six months, the Aussies have been forming a team and strategies designed to prosper at this year’s T20 World Cup being held Down Under. Because the boundaries at Australian grounds are often much longer than those in places like South Africa, England, India, New Zealand or the Caribbean, all-out attack with the bat is less successful.
Many of the slogs that just carry for six on tiny grounds elsewhere in the world end up caught in Aussie outfielda. Noting this, the Steve Smith was brought into the side at first drop instead of a hitter like D’Arcy Short or Chris Lynn.
On most Australian grounds, a par score during the T20 World Cup will be in the 165-180 range. Smith’s inclusion seems designed to consistently reach solid totals rather than shooting for the stars in the manner of teams like England, who can find no room for Joe Root to play a similar anchor role.
But even huge totals regularly get mowed down in the Republic, as we saw in the England series, so Australia may well need to play with greater aggression.
That will be more difficult due to the absence of their quickest scorer, the injured Glenn Maxwell.
The Victorian has dominated international T20s over the past two years, piling up 1168 runs at 51 in his last 30 innings, while scoring at 9.7 runs per over. Among the top-ten runscorers in that period, Maxwell is the only batsman who averages more than 40 while also scoring at better than 9.0 runs per over.
Without the proven middle-order ballistics of Maxwell to lean upon, openers David Warner and Aaron Finch may need to take more risks in the power play. That won’t be easy against a quality pace attack of Kagiso Rabada, Dale Steyn and Lungi Ngidi.
If Australia can’t get off to a quick start it will heap pressure on Smith and an unproven middle order.
Matt Wade, Mitch Marsh, Alex Carey and Ashton Agar look likely to fill the spots between four and seven. While collectively they possess generous talent, none has yet had success in T20s. It also remains unknown whether any of them can go close to batting with the same dynamism as Maxwell.
Marsh is experienced in the middle order in the shortest format, but Wade and Carey have made most of their runs up top.
They’ll be matched up against a new-look batting line-up which impressed against England. The likes of JJ Smuts, Heinrich Klaasen, Rassie van der Dussen and Temba Bavuma are all relative newcomers.
Van der Dussen, who has made an incredible start to his ODI career averaging 71 after 21 matches, showed good versatility in the middle order. Klaasen, meanwhile, is more of a power hitter as evidenced by his brutal 66 from 33 balls in his only innings against England.
At the top of the order, Bavuma looked in great nick as he made 123 run at 41, with a swift scoring rate of 9.22 runs per over. But it is his opening partner Australia will be most concerned about.
New captain Quinton de Kock is in career-best form across all three formats. First he hammered 380 runs at 48 in the Tests against England, then 187 runs at 62 in the ODIs, before showcasing his boundary-clearing ability in the T20s.
In that latter three-match series, de Kock scored at an incredible 12.88 runs per over and launched 14 sixes. He ran amok in the power play, looking to thrash the England bowlers from ball one.
De Kock’s match-up against Australian new ball guns Mitchell Starc and Pat Cummins is mouth-watering. It may well decide the series.
Expect it to rain sixes in South Africa.