Australia have an excellent top four and a five-man attack that is gelling beautifully, but settling their middle order in time for this year’s T20 World Cup will require some patience.
Beyond their commanding first-choice top four of David Warner, Aaron Finch, Steve Smith and Glenn Maxwell, Australia need to settle on one of Mitch Marsh or Matt Wade to fill the remaining spot in their World Cup batting line-up.
With Maxwell expected to also miss next month’s three-match T20I series in New Zealand due to an elbow injury, Marsh and Wade have four more games in which to secure a spot in the starting XI.
That challenge begins for them today in Cape Town where Australia have a chance to register a 2-1 win in this T20I series. What Australia need from Marsh and Wade, first and foremost, is a significant impact at the back end of their innings.
The Aussie top three is in dominant form. Since the start of the Australian summer, Warner, Finch and Smith combined have churned out an incredible 840 runs at 76 in this format, at 8.75 runs per over.
Just like Australia’s impressive attack is building a great relationship, this top three is developing a good understanding.
Each of them has shown the ability to move up and down the gears during innings to suit match circumstances. When one has been on fire the other has tended to feed them the strike.
Warner, Finch and Smith consistently have set fine platforms for the middle order, including in this series in SA. In the first match against the Proteas they were 1-84 after 8.1 overs and in the second game the Aussies were 1-98 after 12.2 overs.
In neither match did Australia’s middle order fully capitalise on these good starts. At Johannesburg, on a nice batting surface, a total of up to 215 looked possible after Australia’s ballistic start.
But Wade, Marsh and wicketkeeper Alex Carey couldn’t maintain the momentum, combining for 64 from 47 balls at a pretty gentle scoring rate of 8.17 runs per over.
If that effort was underwhelming then the one at Port Elizabeth was awful. This time around that Aussie trio, with the match and a 2-0 series lead there for the taking, together made just 21 from 20 balls faced.
They received a lot of justified criticism in the wake of Australia’s choke. But many fans were especially harsh on long-time whipping boys Marsh and Wade, two of the most maligned Aussie cricketers of the modern era.
While both men have struggled so far in this series, they are just two games into this new phase of their T20I careers. Rushing to judgment is of little value.
Marsh has played just 13 T20Is over the past eight-and-a-half years. Never has he been afforded a proper run at this format – now is the time for faith to be shown. The West Australian has earned this opportunity via consistently good performances for the Perth Scorchers, having made 1,242 runs at 35 across his BBL career.
There were no other standout middle order options who already have international experience. Parachuting an international rookie like Jono Wells into the team so close to the World Cup would have been a risky move, by comparison.
The decision to trial Wade as a middle order batsman was less straight forward. He has built his name as an opener in this format and has never had significant success further down the order. It is easy to see why many people have questioned his selection.
But now that he’s in the Australian set-up he needs to at least be given time to see if he can adapt. Writing him off after just two matches would be folly. Wade, Marsh and Carey are all under pressure, to varying degrees, as Australia search to find the right middle order combination.