Familiar questions remain for Australia in T20 jigsaw puzzle

News Analysis

Big-name players will return but some key areas will continue to provoke debate when Australia resume playing

Australia fought back from 2-0 down to square the series against New Zealand before suffering a heavy loss in the decider. The squad was missing at least four players who will be inked into the T20 World Cup squad, in theory given an opportunity to assess the wider options available. With the team now facing a lengthy break, what can be gleaned from the five matches?

Wade the frontrunner, but where does the keeper bat?

However this series had played out there would have been questions remaining afterwards because of the names missing, especially so at the top of the order. David Warner will return and open with Aaron Finch – that’s probably the easy bit – but at the moment it appears Australia want their gloveman in the top order as well and that’s going to be a squeeze with Steven Smith also to fit in. Matthew Wade had the gloves throughout the series and in the last match slotted in at No. 3 having previously opened and produced his best knock of the five games. Josh Philippe played two very good innings in his debut series – and may well be the man for the 2022 T20 World Cup – but for now Wade looks to have the running. With the bat he may yet be used in a floating capacity both because of his experience and the fact that he’s a left hander.

The finisher

This has been a perennial debate around Australia’s T20 side. Given Ashton Turner wasn’t tried in the series before returning home early for the birth of his child it would appear to be between Marcus Stoinis and Mitchell Marsh (it’s tricky to see how both play when all the batsmen are available). Stoinis played one standout innings – the 78 off 37 balls that almost stole the game in Dunedin – and it could be his spot to lose although, like so many in this line-up, his best work domestically comes at the top of the order and at times he can still soak up too many dots. Marsh’s best innings came when batting at No. 4 in the first match, albeit in a forlorn cause, and in three of matches found himself down at No. 7 below Ashton Agar in an attempt to split up the left and right handers. He also didn’t bowl in the series following another season of injury. Daniel Sams showed what he is capable of with 41 off 15 balls in Dunedin, but the feeling is he has to compete as one of the five bowlers. Agar, whose role with the ball is vital, has yet to convince he can quite hold the batting position needed of him.

It can’t all be on Maxwell

Related to the above is the fact that it still feels as though too much of how the middle order performs (in whatever order they bat) rests on the brilliance of Glenn Maxwell. It came off spectacularly in the third game when he had the ideal mix of a platform to work with and time left in the innings as he hammered 70 off 31 balls. Either side of that he made 23 runs in four innings and Australia need to have the ability to soak up those sorts of days more easily.

Pace-bowling pecking order

Mitchell Starc and Pat Cummins will be locked into the side which probably leaves room for one more frontline quick in the XI. It could well be a horses-for-courses approach depending on conditions and opposition. The possibility of larger World Cup squad due to Covid-19 protocols also means the tough calls may not need to be made at the outset. Riley Meredith‘s first appearances for Australia certainly caught the eye, twice beating Kane Williamson for pace to win lbw appeals, and his development at the IPL (if he plays) will be watched with interest. Kane Richardson remains a hugely versatile performer and perhaps the most dependable behind the big two. Jhye Richardson, on his international comeback, showed glimpses of the late swing that make him so dangerous. Does Josh Hazlewood come into the mix as well?

Did Australia try enough?

During the series both Finch and coach Andrew McDonald spoke of the valuable “information gathering” that had gone on even if, from the outside, it did not look like much was changing pointing to things like altering batting orders and Adam Zampa bowling more Powerplay overs. There was only one personnel change in the five games: Meredith replacing Sams after the first two matches. In truth, the series finishes with largely the same questions as it started. Five of the squad who were there the end – D’Arcy Short, Ben McDermott, Andrew Tye, Jason Behrendorff and Tanveer Sangha – did not get a game although so many extra players wouldn’t have been on tour under normal circumstances.

Andrew McGlashan is a deputy editor at ESPNcricinfo

Source: ESPN Crickinfo

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