The fate of this summer’s Ashes series is in the balance, with England players set to meet this week with the England Cricket Board (ECB) and the Professional Cricketers Association (PCA).
The T20 World Cup is the only major limited-overs trophy that eludes Australia and given the inability of the selectors to answer key questions, the likes of India, England and even the West Indies are ahead of the Aussies in the pecking order.
Here are three areas of concern Australia must address in their tours of West Indies and Bangladesh ahead of the showpiece tournament scheduled to be held in India (but likely to be moved to the UAE).
1. Lack of middle-order specialists
Australia has a plethora of top-order specialists and the selectors have been hell-bent on fitting them all in. The likes of Marcus Stoinis and Mitchell Marsh do their best work in the top four, but both usually bat at five or six.
Also, Australia have put faith in the likes of Matthew Wade, Josh Philippe, Alex Carey and D’Arcy Short. However, if David Warner, Aaron Finch and Steve Smith are all available, then surely only Carey or Wade get in as keeper, and they too are top-order players in this format.
This makes Josh Inglis’ exclusion all the more surprising and leaves Australia relying heavily on the top order to perform to give the side the best possible chance or registering match-winning totals.
Finch, who is the only Australian batsman to hit 100 T20 sixes, is a superb option. So too Warner, who is a T20 great. Smith can offer value at three. And, of course, Glenn Maxwell is the danger man at four. But it’s the positions from five down that offer the least reliability.
Since the initial squad announcement for the West Indies, Ben McDermott and Daniel Christian have been added. McDermott can offer value in the middle order, given his strike rate of nearly 140 batting at five, while Christian, despite his older age, was immense for the Sydney Sixers in last season’s Big Bash, courtesy of his ability to smash runs at a ferocious pace in both the middle and death overs.
A player like this is vital for Australia, given Stoinis, Marsh and Carey can take time to get going.
2. Death-bowling effectiveness
Australia’s death-bowling worries were on show earlier this year against New Zealand. The likes of Daniel Sams and Kane Richardson, who are final-over specialists, haven’t cracked it at international level, which puts pressure on the others around them to recover the damage.
However, the form of key man Mitchell Starc is also a concern.
Sure, it was red-ball cricket where he struggled in season 2020-21, but Australia needs to ensure he is in a good mental state given what he has gone through personally in recent months.
So, with key players – including Pat Cummins – reportedly keen to skip the tours of the West Indies and Bangladesh, citing bubble concerns, the challenge for Australia is nailing down the death-overs bowling. Nathan Ellis could be worth trying in the upcoming tours, while the likes of Jhye Richardson and Riley Meredith need to find consistency at international level and fast.
3. Developing consistency of performance
Australia find themselves in a bit of a conundrum. There are key areas to fix, where new players could provide solutions, however combinations need to be confirmed to develop continuity and confidence, as the Aussies have never prioritised T20s.
This is why Australia will be hoping they can nail combinations early on in the West Indies tour – so they can look to build on in the remaining part of that series as well as in Bangladesh.