One of the more occupied sides when it comes to taking the field, Australia are set to break their five month long hiatus to resume international cricket with a tour of England. The home side on the other end, England are about to culminate a successfully held summer under the unique regulations of Covid restrictions. Having hosted West Indies, Ireland and Pakistan, this is the first time the hosts will be facing a side ranked above them in the format under consideration.
Australia attained the number 1 T20I ranking for the first time during the pandemic break. They were crowned with the numero uno status in the annual rankings’ reset in May, thus dethroning Pakistan after their 27-month long stay at the summit. Since 2019, Australia have won T20I series in India, South Africa and thrashed Sri Lanka and Pakistan in between at home. They have won nine out of their 11 T20Is during this period with one game going down without a result.
Their stunning rise is the aftereffect of a change in perception towards the format. After taking T20s lightly for years, Australia began assembling their best squad in wake of back-to-back T20 World Cups, the first of which was originally scheduled in Australia before being postponed to 2022. The change in schedule, however, does not concern the skipper, Aaron Finch who reckons the current pool of players covers all the basis to answer the differing conditions, whether it is Australia, India or England.
The reinstatement of David Warner and Steve Smith to Australia's squad was a big step forward. Warner especially, pairing up with Finch at the top, has built the most formidable opening combination.
Smith has showed his worth with valuable fifties and Glenn Maxwell is the perfect middle-order batsman in the format. Before taking a break in 2019, Maxwell was at the peak of his prowess scoring 231 runs in three innings averaging 115.5 alongside a strike-rate of 183.
Australia has been prolific at the business end of their bowling innings as well. With both Pat Cummins and Mitchell Starc playing, Australia have kept their economy rate down to 7.6 runs per over during the death - the best amongst all Test playing nations since 2019.
Meanwhile, England have summoned their best side available to tackle their arch-rivals. Jos Buttler, Jofra Archer and Mark Wood have been called for their first white-ball assignment of the summer after serving time with England’s Test side. None of them have been a consistent part of England’s T20 unit as the selectors deviated from the best XI to assess the bench strength also giving their all-format players a much needed rest. Archer’s inclusion is the most vital of them all. While England’s batting has done well without their established stars, the bowling has suffered. Australia, on the other hand have been the best bowling side in terms of containing runs.
Although England have played on good batting decks, their backup bowlers have left a lot to desire. Expecting their batsmen to make up for subpar bowling might be too much to ask as the Aussies might not provide any breathing space to the English bowlers.
England’s batting has been spectacular to say the least and will be further emboldened with the inclusion of Jos Buttler. Though England seem keen on maximizing Buttler’s potential at the top, the dynamics of the current squad which does not have Ben Stokes demand the batsman to take back his role as a finisher. Even with a performing batting contingent and Moeen Ali smashing a 33-ball 61 in the third T20I against Pakistan, there seems to be too much on the plate for skipper, Eoin Morgan.
Since 2019, Morgan has scored the maximum number of runs (494) amongst players batting in the middle-order from Test playing nations. Moreover, he has the highest average and strike-rate amongst those who have scored over 200 runs in the middle-order (number four to seven) vouching for his brilliance.
Currently, England have a number of batsmen to bat at the top but not many to finish the innings against Starc and Cummins. Buttler moving down the order will help Morgan share the burden and help England continue to accelerate during the middle-overs. Since 2019, England have the highest batting run-rate (9.2) during the middle-over phase in T20Is. Australia are placed second at 8.8 runs per over.
Overall, the two sides are the fastest scoring sides in T20Is. Amongst the Test playing nations, these are the only two teams to have scored at 9 runs per over since 2019 (England 9.4, Australia 9). If the T20 World Cup was going ahead as planned, these two would be the firm favorites. Undoubtedly, this will be the most competitive series since cricket has resumed. Australia, though, will be tasked to brush aside any rustiness as they will take the field for the first time since March 13.
Jos Buttler will walk straight into the XI and as mentioned above, he is expected to open the innings. This puts England in a situation to drop one amongst Jonny Bairstow, Tom Banton and Dawid Malan to form their top three. Given Banton’s impressive returns against Pakistan and Bairstow having already established himself before, Malan may have to sit out of the series opener. Jofra Archer and Mark Wood might also be seen in action.
Jonny Bairstow (wk), Jos Buttler, Tom Banton, Eoin Morgan (c), Sam Billings, Moeen Ali, Chris Jordan, Tom Curran, Jofra Archer, Adil Rashid, Mark Wood
The visitors have plenty of options in their 21-man squad, particularly in the pace department. However, Australia might field the same set of pacers they employed in their previous T20I - versus South Africa in February 2020. Marnus Labuschagne scored a hundred in the intra-squad warm-up game but has Glenn Maxwell ahead of him to get a game first.
Aaron Finch (c), David Warner, Steve Smith, Glenn Maxwell, Mitchell Marsh, Alex Carey (wk), Ashton Agar, Pat Cummins, Mitchell Starc, Kane Richardson, Adam Zampa
The three T20Is are scheduled in Southampton before three ODIs, all of which will be played in Manchester. The first T20I will take place on Friday (September 4) from 10.30 pm IST onwards. The weather has constantly played a spoilsport this English summer and dark clouds are expected during the game.