With half-centuries to Rachael Haynes, Meg Lanning, Ashleigh Gardner and Tahlia McGrath Day 1 of the lone Ashes Test finished with the Australian Women’s Cricket team firmly in the box seat at 7/327.
Spin pair Adam Zampa and Ashton Agar have been key to Australia’s T20 resurgence so it was odd to see captain Aaron Finch seemingly lose faith in them as the Aussies were beaten by New Zealand on Monday.
Zampa and Agar sent down just five overs combined as Finch instead employed part-timers Glenn Maxwell and Marcus Stoinis, with Australia using a whopping seven bowlers.
It was a surprising move by Finch after Australia made a commanding start, reducing the Kiwis to 3-19. Particularly so given the strong faith the skipper has previously shown in this spin combo.
Zampa and Agar have consistently choked the run rate in the middle overs over the past two years, helping Australia earn an excellent T20 record in that period of 11 wins and 6 losses.
Agar was crowned Australia’s T20 Player of the Year for 2020, and owns a sensational career record, averaging 21 with the ball at a miserly economy rate of 6.94 runs per over.
Zampa, meanwhile, is probably Australia’s most valuable T20 bowler. He rarely gets collared, regularly troubles world-class batsmen, and displays uncommon calm under pressure.
Zampa and Agar are the world’s number 5 and 6 ranked T20 bowlers, respectively, further highlighting the impact they’ve had on this format in recent times.
Since he took over in mid-2018, Australian coach Justin Langer has built the T20 attack around that pair. Zampa and Agar have been the only constants in this bowling unit since then, with Australia churning through no less than 12 fast bowlers.
Mitchell Starc, Pat Cummins, Andrew Tye, Jason Behrendorff, Billy Stanlake, Josh Hazlewood, Daniel Sams, Nathan Coulter-Nile, Kane Richardson, Jhye Richardson, Sean Abbott, and Jack Wildermuth all have had a T20 run under Langer.
Australia’s pace group has changed so frequently that the bedrock provided by Zampa and Agar has been invaluable.
Despite the heavy focus on the impact of swing in Monday’s first T20 in Christchurch, it was spin that finished off Australia. Quality Kiwi slow bowlers Ish Sodhi and Mitchell Santner combined for five wickets.
Sodhi and Santner exposed Australia’s longstanding middle order weakness against spin. Australia have, for some time now, been unable to settle on a five-six batting combination because most of the candidates labour against spin.
Matthew Wade has been good up top in T20Is but clueless down lower, averaging 12 at a strike rate of 94 from his 24 matches batting in the middle order.
Fellow keeper-batsman Alex Carey has barely been better, averaging 12 at a strike rate of 117 from his 26 T20Is in the middle order.
Ben McDermott and Ashton Turner have also struggled in that role, albeit from fewer matches.
Then there’s Marcus Stoinis. Similar to Wade and Carey, Stoinis is far better suited to the top order. All three prefer to arrive at the crease with the field up and pace on the ball. Starting against spin exposes them.
Stoinis, again, looked shaky versus spin in his brief innings of 8 (11) on Monday.
As he is not competent at rotating the strike against slow bowlers, Stoinis leans heavily on boundaries.
That can work in the BBL. Against higher quality international spinners, however, manufacturing boundaries from good balls is a risky endeavour.
Yet Australia have kept playing the likes of Stoinis, Wade and Carey in middle order roles that patently didn’t suit them.
In this series they had a perfect opportunity to trial, in that role, someone who relishes facing spin. Josh Philippe is more versatile, assured and destructive against slow bowlers than any of Stoinis, Wade or Carey.
That is why Australia should be trialling Philippe in the middle order against the Kiwis. Instead they played him at first drop, despite already having a logjam of batsmen competing for top order spots – Aaron Finch, David Warner, Steve Smith, Glenn Maxwell, Wade and Stoinis.
If Australia continue to play Philippe up top, and Stoinis down low, they could waste a gilded chance to address their middle order problem ahead of this year’s World Cup.
At Christchurch, New Zealand won the spin battle.
Now Australia need to triumph in the spin war.