Australia have the richest trophy cabinet among all cricket-playing nations. But, one title that has eluded them so far has been a World T20 title. Australia had started the downhill journey from their prime by the time the first edition in 2007 began. But even then, they have had periods of domination in Test Cricket and a 50-over World Cup title in 2015. However, they have reached the final only once in six World T20s so far.
Given their legacy, no matter the balance of their squad and a man-to-man comparison with their opponents on the day, Australia always enter a multi-national format as one of the favourites. But they have a lot more questions to address in their T20 side than the two other more feared teams in the shortest form of the game: England and India.
To avoid going too far back in time, let us focus on the recent form. This will be in line with how Australia’s skipper Aaron Finch is approaching the series against West Indies in the context of the looming World T20. Warning the players, who opted out of the West Indies tour for various reasons related to health concerns or bubble fatigue, Finch said, "Yeah, very realistic (to miss out on World T20). You have to go on current form, and you pick guys who are playing well. For guys to be on this tour, to get the first opportunity to really put their hand up and take a spot is what it's about."
Since the world witnessed some level of normalcy and cricket began after the COVID hiatus, Australia have played 11 T20Is across the globe: in England, back home against India, and in New Zealand. They have lost all those series having won only four of those games. As things stand, they have five T20Is against West Indies scheduled before the World Cup and five more pending confirmation for the tour to Bangladesh. Only time will tell if it will be enough to overcome the issues hampering their side.
Lacking spin bashers
Since September 2020, the major teams have played eight (India) to 17 (Pakistan) T20Is. Australia have played 11, thus have a fair n-size for us to assess their strengths and weakness. Australia’s run-rate of 8.5 in these games has been decent, but have lost a wicket every 18.3 balls which is frequent than most other sides.
Most teams have a lower run rate against spin (unless the team is England) but, it is largely due to playing them out with caution in the middle-overs and not gifting wickets. For Australia, it has been a double whammy where-in they have not only scored slower by around 1.5 runs per over against spin but have also lost a wicket to them 10 balls sooner in comparison to against pacers. In fact, Australia have the best balls per wicket record against pacers but are giving it away against spin.
All batsmen who have played six or more of these 11 T20Is have struggled against spin on at least one of average or strike rate. Glenn Maxwell has been the only spin basher in the team but is not part of the current squad. Matthew Wade has a higher average and will thus hold the key against West Indies.
Josh Philippe has not enjoyed much luck against spin at the international level. However, he did well in the recent edition of the Big Bash, averaging 46.3 and smashing the tweakers at a strike rate of 186.9. Ben McDermott is also a part of the squad against West Indies and had good numbers (average 40.3 and a strike rate of 167.7) against spin in the recent Big Bash. Australia would hope that they offer some respite to their struggles against slow bowlers. Given the World T20 is in UAE, the ability to play spin will be the difference between a contender and the champions.
Where are the finishers?
Nine of the top ten leading run-scorers from Australia in all T20s since 2019 are openers. The only exception is Glenn Maxwell, who also relishes coming out to bat with time to spare. In the current squad to West Indies, Aaron Finch, Wade, Philippe, and Alex Carey have found success while playing as an opener or in the top-order at best. The same applies to the other more celebrated players not in the squad: David Warner, Steve Smith, and Marcus Stoinis.
In the last 11 T20Is, Australia have tried seven different batsmen at the number six spot. But, their collective average has been 14.5 and a strike rate of a mere 109.4. This is better than only Pakistan and Sri Lanka, two sides in dire need of finishers themselves. It is a spot where teams have had players like Kieron Pollard (strike rate 196.2), Shreyas Iyer (181.3) and David Miller (Strike rate 161.2) scoring at a much brisker pace in this timeframe.
Even number five has been an issue for them and the numbers have been inflated by Stoinis’ 37-ball 78-run knock in New Zealand earlier this year. The issue with Australia has been their failure to settle down on a) the batting line-up due to a lot of personnel changes due to various reasons b) the batting order given the batsmen selected for the national side are batting out of place in comparison to their Big Bash side. Wade reflected on the conundrum while not thinking of it as an issue. “Batted three in the last T20 in New Zealand, batted at six in the first T20 against India then I opened the next two games. I can bat anywhere, that's one of my strengths, I've batted pretty much everywhere for Australia."
Daniel Christian and Ashton Turner both did well at numbers five and six in the last Big Bash. Part of the squad in the Caribbean, they not only have a chance to cement their place for the mega even later in the year but also help Australia fill a glaring hole in their batting department.
With Mitchell Starc in the mixing and raring to address the unfinished business since missing out on the 2016 World T20, bowling is not Australia’s biggest worry. It is the lack of firepower in their batting as compared to England and India that stands between them and the only title they are yet to win.
Aaron Finch ©, Matthew Wade, Mitchell Marsh, Moises Henriques, Josh Philippe (wk), Ashton Turner/Ben McDermott, Dan Christian, Daniel Sams, Ashton Agar, Mitchell Starc, Mitchell Swepson/Adam Zampa, Josh Hazlewood
Postscript- Probable XI updated after head coach Justin Langer confirmed that Mitchell Marsh will bat at three and Josh Philippe will bat in the middle-order. In Langer's own words, Marsh plays fast bowling as good as anyone. But, by choosing him over McDermott at three, Australia fail to acknowledge the elephant in the room which is the ability of their batsmen to play spin well. In the recent Big Bash, Marsh had five dismissals to spin and averaged 17.8 with a strike rate of 115.6. Having McDermott at six in place of Turner would again result in players batting out of position.