In the final delivery of Australia’s innings in their first T20I against Sri Lanka on Sunday, David Warner managed to dig out a yorker for a single to secure his maiden century in the format at the international level. A trademark leap followed and that was enough evidence that, after a horrid time during the Ashes, Warner was BACK!
The left-handed opener followed that knock with scores of 60* and 57* in the two matches that followed. Warner’s ability to bounce back after a massive setback in England is somewhat similar to how Australia have turned their T20I fortunes around this year. At the end of 2018, the Aussies had managed to win just one and lost five matches out of six. But in 2019, they’ve completely turned it around – maintaining a 100% record with five wins from as many matches.
Next up for the team from Down Under are Pakistan who have been one of the most consistent sides in T20Is since the 2016 World T20. No team has won more matches than Pakistan (30) during this time period with India, who’ve also won the same number, having played seven more games. But the Men In Green faced a huge setback recently when they were whitewashed 3-0 by an under-strength Sri Lankan side at home.
Pakistan’s emergence as a top T20I team over the last three years have been on the back of top performances from their newly-appointed skipper Babar Azam. Since the 2016 World T20, no batsman has more T20I runs than him (1290) and he has scored those runs at an average of 49.62 which is a remarkable number in this format.
By his lofty standards, Babar had poor outings against Sri Lanka – scoring just 43 runs in three innings. You can see a correlation here to why Pakistan failed in the series, and their dependence on the 25-year-old.
Babar will be opening the innings alongside Fakhar Zaman here and while the latter has endured a tough time in 2019 – scoring just 48 runs in six innings at an average of eight – there were encouraging signs for Pakistan earlier this week. In the tour match against Cricket Australia XI on Thursday, Zaman scored 43 as the opening partnership accounted for 78. This was a much improved showing from the Sri Lanka series where Pakistan’s opening partnerships read 13, 9 and 0 with Ahmed Shehzad opening in the first match.
Australia, meanwhile, are reaping the benefits of having Warner and captain Aaron Finch opening together once again. While the duo haven’t always opened together in T20Is in the past, a decision hard to fathom, they’ve been brilliant across formats this year. Since Warner’s return to international cricket, the duo have put together eight 50+ partnerships in 13 limited-overs matches at an average of 66.
In this series though, both sets of openers are unlikely to find the going easy. Australia and Pakistan come into the series with excellent bowling options, especially with the new ball.
With Mitchell Starc and Pat Cummins in their ranks, Australia have two of the best limited-overs pacers in world cricket currently. And they have very good fast bowlers in Billy Stanlake and Kane Richardson to support them. The hosts will miss the services of Andrew Tye though, who is their highest wicket-taker (35) since the 2016 World T20. The pacer will undergo elbow surgery and miss up to four months of action which is a blow for the Aussies ahead of next year’s World T20.
Pakistan have a strong left-arm pace trio consisting of Mohammad Amir, Mohammad Irfan and Wahab Riaz with the teenage fast bowling duo of Mohammad Hasnain and Muhammad Musa also part of the squad. Since the start of 2018, the Sydney Cricket Ground (SCG) has been helpful for left-arm pacers who have taken a wicket every 16.6 deliveries – the best strike rate among all bowling types here.
In the spin department, both sides are likely to go in with similar options with Adam Zampa and Shadab Khan as the leg-spinners, and Ashton Agar and Imad Wasim doubling up as left-arm orthodox spinners and handy batsmen down the order.
Since the 2016 World T20, only Afghanistan’s Rashid Khan (62) has taken more wickets than Shadab (46) in this format. But in 2019, he has taken just four wickets in six innings at an average of 50.5 – numbers he’d badly want to improve on ahead of next year’s marquee T20 event Down Under. He showed glimpses of being back in form during the tour match, picking up three wickets and thereby setting up the away team’s win.
With the World T20 less than a year away and to be played in similar conditions, this series will give us a good idea of where two of the top contenders for next year’s title stand.
With Tye injured, it’ll be interesting to see if Australia stick with Richardson who played in the third T20I against Sri Lanka or add even more pace to their bowling with the inclusion of the tall and lanky Stanlake.
Aaron Finch (c), David Warner, Steve Smith, Ben McDermott, Ashton Turner, Alex Carey (wk), Ashton Agar, Pat Cummins, Mitchell Starc, Kane Richardson, Adam Zampa
The visitors are likely to go in with the same team that played during the tour match.
Babar Azam (c), Fakhar Zaman, Haris Sohail, Mohammad Rizwan (wk), Asif Ali, Iftikhar Ahmed, Imad Wasim, Shadab Khan, Mohammad Amir, Mohammad Irfan, Wahab Riaz