Australia’s five-match T20I series in New Zealand next month, which clashes with their Test tour of South Africa, is a gilded chance to trial rookies Tanveer Sangha, Chris Green and Wes Agar ahead of this year’s T20 World Cup.
The Aussie Test squad is expected to fly to South Africa in late February, which means they’ll have to pick a separate T20I squad for the series against the Kiwis, which starts on February 22.
This means that Australia will be missing roughly half of their regular T20I starting XI in NZ, with Steve Smith, David Warner, Alex Carey, Mitchell Starc, Pat Cummins and Josh Hazlewood all likely to be touring SA.
Fringe T20I players Moises Henriques and Mitchell Swepson are also a very strong chance of touring SA, with Australia expected to pick a huge Test squad due to the difficulty of flying in replacements amid the pandemic.
My Australian T20I starting line-up and squad for the five-match series in New Zealand:
1. Aaron Finch (captain)
2. Marcus Stoinis
3. Glenn Maxwell
4. Ben McDermott
5. Mitch Marsh
6. Josh Philippe (wicketkeeper)
7. Dan Christian
8. Jhye Richardson
9. Chris Green
10. Adam Zampa
11. Kane Richardson
12. Josh Inglis
13. Daniel Sams
14. Wes Agar
15. Tanveer Sangha
The left-field choice in my 15-man squad is Tanveer Sangha. Hear me out. The 19-year-old is extremely green, having made professional cricketing debut just six weeks ago.
If Australia were picking a full-strength T20I squad right now then Sangha would be well behind the likes of Zampa, Ashton Agar, Mitchell Swepson, Nathan Lyon and Chris Green.
But three of those bowlers will very likely be unavailable to play NZ, with Lyon and Swepson expected to be touring SA, and Ashton Agar injured.
Beyond those five spinners I listed, the pickings are slim. Fawad Ahmed and Steve O’Keefe are doing solid jobs in the BBL but are 38 and 36 years old respectively. They are not long-term prospects, quite clearly, and also are very unlikely to feature in this year’s T20 World Cup in India in October.
This is why the prodigiously talented Sangha should tour NZ. Even if he didn’t play a game in NZ, he would benefit from taking part in an international tour.
Australia like to play two front-line spinners in T20Is, so they need a third spinner as a back-up to Zampa and Green. Sangha’s the man.
The starting XI contains seven obvious picks – Finch, Stoinis, Maxwell, Marsh, Zampa and the two Richardsons. The other four slots in the starting XI have gone to less experienced players who can challenge for spots in Australia’s T20 World Cup squad.
Batting at four in my line-up, McDermott has good recent and long-term form in the shortest format. As of yesterday he was second on the BBL run-scorer’s list for this season and has averaged 37 at a strike rate of 131 across the past three BBL seasons.
McDermott has underwhelmed in his brief T20I career for Australia but at 26 years old he appears to be blossoming as a cricketer across all three formats. His wide range of strokes and devastating power made him a worthwhile investment.
The same goes for Philippe.
It was a toss-up for the starting gloveman spot between him and another Perth product in Josh Inglis. The latter is quite clearly the superior keeper. What seduced me about Philippe is his rare ability against spin, keeping in mind that slow bowling will likely define this year’s World Cup on Indian pitches.
Australia have a brilliant and vastly experienced top four in T20Is – Finch, Warner, Smith and Maxwell. What they have lacked for years now are middle-order batsmen who are confident and fluent against spin.
Henriques is a good option in this regard, but he was in Australia’s Test squad against India and probably will tour SA instead of going to NZ for the T20Is.
Philippe has batted mostly in the top order in T20s. But as a modern, 360-degree batsman, who is hyper-aggressive against pace and nimble and destructive against spin, he has the tools to transition to the middle order.
Australia’s top four appears set in stone for the World Cup, and they favour playing five bowlers, which means their keeper will need to bat at five or six. Alex Carey, who I expect to tour SA with the Test squad, has been Australia’s first-choice T20 keeper for almost three years now but has a very poor batting record, averaging 12 at a dawdling strike rate of 117.
Australia need greater explosiveness from their T20I keeper, and either Philippe or Inglis could potentially provide that.
Such dynamism is also what appeals to me about Christian. Specialist middle-over hitters are thin on the ground the world over. That’s because franchises tend to play their best strikers in the top four.
Christian, meanwhile, has become a specialist middle-order finisher, batting at five or six for the Sydney Sixers this season while averaging 30 at a ballistic strike rate of 191.
Among the top 30 run-scorers in the BBL this season, he and Daniel Sams are the only players with strike rates above 160. Christian also offers a handy sixth bowling option and is good in the field.
With an eye on this year’s World Cup, I’m also attracted by Christian’s massive experience across a huge range of countries. No current Australian cricketer has played more T20 matches than Christian’s giant haul of 338 games.
Crucially, he has played a whopping 67 matches in Asia, across various franchise leagues, including 40 IPL appearances.
Experience overseas is also a factor in my selection of Chris Green. Of Green’s 104 career T20 matches, 46 have been played in franchise leagues in the Caribbean, England, India and UAE.
Together with his skills as a defensive T20 spinner, that makes him a good choice to partner Zampa in the starting line-up against NZ.
Rounding out Australia’s starting T20 attack should be the two Richardsons. Jhye is tearing the BBL to pieces, with 21 wickets at 11 up to yesterday.
Kane, meanwhile, has been in terrific touch for Australia in this format, taking 13 wickets at 17 from his last ten matches, with a great economy of 7.0 runs per over.
Rounding out my squad are Sams, whose consistent dominance of BBL deserves rewarding, and 23-year-old quick Wes Agar.
A natural strike bowler, Agar has taken 28 wickets at 19 across the past two BBL seasons. He is one of a big group of newcomers who deserve opportunities during Australia’s five-match T20I series against NZ next month.