Dean Jones was well down the list of my favourite Australian batsmen of his era, but I always thought he was a fine technician, a man of considerable courage, and I was very impressed by his interview with Crash Craddock on Cricket Legends.
The recent three-match T20 series against England was our first chance to see the green and gold play in some time and it was lovely to see some competitive cricket.
However, even while we are starved for international cricket, it is important not to lose sight of what Australia are aiming towards – the 2021 T20 World Cup. That is the next major piece of international silverware and the games that Australia play until then are all focused on identifying how Australia should look in India next year.
As the current global situation means it is unclear how many games Australia’s T20 team will play prior to the tournament, each game they do play must be considered a valuable opportunity to hone their line-up. So what did the recently completed series tell us about Australia’s chances?
Australia has a wealth of quality top-order alternatives
Australia already possess a dynamic, high-quality opening pair in David Warner and Aaron Finch. Of all the opening partnerships who have played at least five innings together in the last three years, Warner and Finch have the highest average partnership of 60. They also achieve this at a run rate of 9.64 per over, which is elite. These two consistently put Australia in a strong position to put runs on the board. Having Steve Smith as a number three is also a pretty handy back-up.
In addition to this quality top three, Australia has a range of useful top-order back-ups. Matthew Wade looked good in his one game and Marcus Stoinis also looked more comfortable at number three. In addition, there are also options like Alex Carey, D’Arcy Short and Marnus Labuschagne waiting in the wings. Regardless of the combination, Australia have the top-order firepower to remain competitive in the World Cup.
But the middle order remains a puzzle
Leading in to the series against England, I thought there were two certainties in Australia’s middle order, Glenn Maxwell and Alex Carey. Yeah, that didn’t quite work as expected. Carey was indecisive with the bat, flat with the gloves and Wade looked far more dynamic in replacing him. It is now a genuine question as to whether Carey is Australia’s best option with the gloves and it will be interesting to see how that is sorted out.
Maxwell was Maxwell in many ways, but couldn’t get anything going and played some unusual shots to get himself out. Maxwell’s track record grants him a lot of latitude, and Australia will stick with him long term. There is no other current Australian player who has his ability to finish well in the middle order.
Stoinis was given another shot in the middle order, but his game is not suited to a finishing role. He is a slow starter at a time when batsmen need to be aggressive from the first ball that they face. He is worth keeping in the squad, but more as a back-up top-order player rather than a genuine middle-order batsman.
Mitch Marsh is possibly a better option than Stoinis, but there are justifiable questions over how he plays spin at the start of his innings, a weakness that is readily exploitable in India. Ashton Agar is an okay batsman, and performed credibly against England, but he is also not a super explosive finisher and may be a little stretched as a true number seven.
The middle order is Australia’s greatest question and selectors will be closely watching the BBL to see if any other candidates come forward. Josh Philippe and Daniel Sams may get a look as they potentially have the tools to be an innings finisher, or Australia may look back to older names such as Ashton Turner or Ben McDermott.
The bowling attack is excellent and versatile
England have a deep and dangerous batting line-up but Australia were able to neutralise it. Against a strong Pakistan bowling attack, England scored 9.31 runs per over across their three-match series. Against Australia, with their first-choice batsmen, England had an overall run rate of 7.91.
Australia’s attack has quality at all levels of an innings. It is incisive at the top with Mitchell Starc and Patrick Cummins or Josh Hazlewood. Agar and Adam Zampa have developed into a very strong spinning duo that combines control with wicket-taking ability throughout the middle overs. The fast bowlers, Kane Richardson in particular, are also adept at finishing an innings. Depending on the team selected, Australia can also get overs out of Maxwell, Stoinis and Marsh.
The biggest question around Australia’s bowling is its depth. Hazlewood is more than useful, but the other alternatives are either limited (Andrew Tye and Nathon Lyon) or largely untested (Riley Meredith, Sean Abbott and Daniel Sams). As with the middle order, it still feels like there is scope for players from outside the current squad to play their way in with a good BBL campaign.
You need to be tactically sound to beat the best teams
Aaron Finch is a really good limited-overs captain. He is a calm decision-maker and tends to respond to situations in an optimal fashion. However, he made a couple of unusual tactical decisions that negatively impacted Australia’s chance of victory.
In the first T20 international, Finch threw the ball to Adam Zampa in the 18th over, at a time when the faster men are usually bowling. It didn’t work, Zampa conceded 22 runs, which looks especially bad when the 17th, 19th and 20th overs conceded a total of 18 runs. At the end of the innings, Richardson and Cummins both had one over to spare, and could have been used instead.
In the second T20 international, Finch went back to Zampa in the 19th over with similar results. England needed 18 runs off two overs, so they were favourites but it was also defendable by Australia with good bowling. Instead Zampa conceded those 18 runs off only five deliveries. As with the first game, Richardson and Cummins both had overs left and could have finished the innings between them.
Zampa is a good T20 bowler, but it is not an optimal use of his skills to use him as a death bowler. He is most comfortable bowling through the middle of the innings. To use him at the end, was a strange decision by Finch and was subsequently punished by England.
What this series shows is how thin the margins are when you are playing the best teams. Small errors such as this lead to losses against England and India. In the World Cup, Australia will have to be ruthlessly efficient in avoiding such game-breaking mistakes if they wish to win.