Australia’s chances of securing their first T20 World Cup title in October were boosted by the announcement of a five-match T20I series in Bangladesh in August immediately after their eight-match white-ball tour of the Caribbean.
Australia have had a drought of cricket during the pandemic, but now get a prime opportunity to finalise their World Cup squad thanks to 13 white-ball matches in about six weeks, starting from July 9.
With the World Cup to be played in either the UAE or India, the Bangladesh T20I series will be crucial exposure to lower, slower Asian pitches for the Aussie players.
Some of Australia’s key T20I players could then get further practice should they decided to take part in the rescheduled IPL, which is being slated for a September-October finish in the UAE.
Australia’s been starved of international cricket due to the pandemic – in the past 15 months they’ve played just 16 white ball matches. That’s compared to 41 matches in the 15 months previous to that.
So playing 13 matches in a such a short period of time will be enormously valuable to Australia as they try to finally settle on a middle-order for the World Cup.
Nine spots appear to be almost cemented in Australia’s first-choice T20I line-up. The five-man attack of Mitchell Starc, Pat Cummins, Kane Richardson, Ashton Agar and Adam Zampa has been consistently effective for the past two years.
As has the experienced top four combination of Aaron Finch, David Warner, Steve Smith and Glenn Maxwell. But in between those groups – at five and six – is a gaping hole. One of those spots needs to be plugged by a batsman or all-rounder, and the other by a wicketkeeper.
The problem for Australia is they’ve trialled many players in those roles over the past four years and none have prospered consistently. Several of those same players are in this squad.
Mitchell Marsh and Marcus Stoinis are probably the leading contenders to bat at five. Marsh has long seemed the better option given he bats in the middle order in the BBL, where Stoinis is a top-order specialist. Yet Stoinis has adapted well to a lower batting position for Australia in the past year.
In that time he’s made 214 run at 43, with a good strike rate of 147, when batting at number five or lower in T20Is. I’ve been consistently critical of Stoinis as a limited-overs international player, but those numbers are encouraging. Combined with his generous experience in the IPL, it makes him a solid option to bat five in these upcoming T20Is.
If Australia continue with their five-man bowling strategy, that could leave limited opportunities for Australia to test out all of Stoinis, Marsh and Moises Henriques, the three men vying for the number five spot.
Over the ten T20Is against the West Indies and Bangladesh, Australia should regularly rest one of their star batsmen. If they constantly rotate the members of their top six over those series, they could give at least six matches each to nine players – Stoinis, Marsh, Henriques, Matthew Wade, Josh Philippe, Warner, Finch, Smith and Maxwell.
That should give those fringe players sufficient chances to stake their claim for a World Cup spot. With Alex Carey having laboured during a long run in the T20I side, the keeping berth should be between Philippe and Wade. Although Wade, too, has greatly underwhelmed when batting down the order for Australia.
Realistically, Philippe and Josh Inglis should have been the two men challenging for the World Cup keeper spot on these tours. But Inglis was surprisingly overlooked, despite Australia picking a giant 23-man white ball squad. Unlike Carey, Wade and Philippe, Inglis has proven himself as a middle-order batsman at the domestic level, in both T20s and 50-over cricket.
Philippe should have been tried at five or six in his debut T20I series in New Zealand earlier this year. Instead he played all five matches in the top three, despite Australia having already nailed down those batting positions. It was a wasted opportunity to see whether Philippe’s 360-degree game and aggression against spin could translate to the middle order.
Australia can’t make the same mistake on these upcoming tours. They need to focus on solving the middle-order weakness that has plagued them for years.
Australia’s squad for the tour of the Caribbean
Aaron Finch (c), Ashton Agar, Jason Behrendorff, Alex Carey, Pat Cummins, Josh Hazlewood, Moises Henriques, Mitchell Marsh, Glenn Maxwell, Riley Meredith, Josh Philippe, Jhye Richardson, Kane Richardson, Tanveer Sangha, D’Arcy Short, Steven Smith, Mitchell Starc, Marcus Stoinis, Mitchell Swepson, Andrew Tye, Matthew Wade, David Warner and Adam Zampa.
Australia’s schedule for the tour of the Caribbean
First T20: July 9 in St Lucia
Second T20: July 10, in St Lucia
Third T20: July 12 in St Lucia
Fourth T20: July 14 in St Lucia
Fifth T20: July 16 in St Lucia
First ODI: July 20 in Barbados
Second ODI: July 22 in Barbados
Third ODI: July 24 in Barbados