CricViz analyst Freddie Wilde identifies four questions for Australia in their T20 series v England.
How much experimentation?
With a huge 21 man squad due to Covid-19 Australia have a vast array of options at their disposal for this series. Will this tempt them into shaking up what has been a fairly settled team across the last 10 months? Australia’s squad includes four uncapped players: Josh Philippe, Marnus Labuschagne, Daniel Sams and Riley Meredith.
Given the break in cricket due to worldwide lockdowns it would be a surprise if Australia were to start the series with anything but their strongest team with all players likely to be desperate for game-time. Australia are on a supreme run of form in T20s having lost just one of their last 11 matches (with one No Result) and in that time have grooved a fairly settled side, particularly since the start of their last home season.
With Glenn Maxwell back in the international fold after taking a break from the game we can confidently know the identity of nine of Australia’s first choice side. David Warner and Aaron Finch are locks to open the batting—it’s hard to disagree with Justin Langer’s claim that this is the best opening partnership in white ball cricket. Then, the middle order of Steve Smith, Maxwell and wicket-keeper Alex Carey, which leaves one spot vacant in the top six. Pat Cummins, Mitchell Starc and Adam Zampa are locks in the bowling attack while Ashton Agar is also a near-certain pick having played all nine of Australia’s T20s since October. That leaves one spot vacant in the bowling attack as well.
Batting Agar at seven & picking five frontline bowlers is the most important strategic call Australia have made & was particularly important after picking Smith. Their solid batting matches up well with their deep bowling. They are following the Scorchers model. #AUSvSL #AUSvPAK https://t.co/EdZbmR6ipK
— Freddie Wilde (@fwildecricket) November 8, 2019
Who is the sixth batsman?
In Australia’s most recent series against South Africa Matthew Wade and Mitchell Marsh were given a run in the top six with Maxwell absent. Now with Maxwell set to return there is only space for one of them and they’ll also be competing with Phillipe, Labuschagne and Marcus Stoinis who is also back in the reckoning after a supreme BBL. However, Stoinis’ excellent BBL came opening the batting and Justin Langer has gone on record as saying he sees Stoinis’ best position as being at the top of the order meaning it’s unlikely we’ll see him in this series. Although Wade was used in the middle order in South Africa his domestic success has also come at the top and he struggled in the middle order role in South Africa. Of those in the squad Philippe—one of the world’s most exciting talents—is undoubtedly the player with the highest ceiling. Marsh’s strong BBL form coming in the middle order makes him a good candidate too, not to mention providing back-up for Agar’s overs which could be particularly useful given England’s run of left-handers in the middle order which could provide the left-arm spinner with match-up issues.
Carey’s usage as a spin-hitter in PE was encouraging. But neither Wade nor Marsh made compelling cases to keep their spots once Maxwell returns. Marsh is at least more familiar in the role than Wade – for whom there is little evidence he can succeed in the middle order. #SAvAUS
— Freddie Wilde (@fwildecricket) February 27, 2020
Notably, despite the large squad there was no space for D’Arcy Short or Chris Lynn – both of whom have strong claims to selection based on form in domestic leagues. Short’s left-arm wrist spin would provide a useful spin option as well.
Who is the fifth bowler?
Kane Richardson has played all of Australia’s last nine T20s which would suggest he is also a lock in the team – and he may well be. However, the presence of Josh Hazlewood, Sean Abbott, Sams, Meredith and Tye in the squad gives Australia options and with Richardson less secure than Cummins and Starc.
Hazlewood has only played 35 T20s in his career and just seven of them for Australia but a return to the BBL, an IPL contract and a return to Australia’s squad suggests—like Smith ten months ago—he is ready to take the format seriously. Given his skill-set: new ball accuracy and movement, decent pace, a good bumper and an accurate yorker he could quite soon challenge Richardson for his spot. With the three T20s being played in quick succession after such a long break, Australia – who manage their quicks carefully at the best of times – may well rotate the attack to have a look at most of the quicks in their squad.
How flexible will Australia be with Smith’s position?
Smith will be carded to bat at number three but Australia have already shown willingness to be flexible with this in the last ten months with him twice sliding down to number five after Australia got off to great starts against Sri Lanka in Adelaide and South Africa in Cape Town.
The flat pitches likely in Southampton and England’s power-packed batting order may encourage Australia to pull this move more often with big totals likely to be required. That said, Smith will enjoy the large boundaries at the Ageas Bowl which offer plenty of scope for gap-finding and hard running.
How often they shuffle Smith around may also depend on the identity of the sixth batsman. If it ends up being either Marsh or Philippe then Australia will be relying less on Maxwell for explosive batting in the second half of the innings but if it is Wade or Labuschagne then Maxwell has slightly less power-hitting support and Australia may prefer to save Maxwell for the slog overs and keep Smith at three, who is capable of rapid scoring rates but only after having faced around 20 balls.
Freddie Wilde is a CricViz analyst, @fwildecricket.