By Amindha de Alwis
Thing were looking all rosy for Australia in early 2020. They were perched on top of the ICC T20I Rankings, gearing up for a home T20 World Cup and riding a wave of four consecutive T20I series victories.
Fast-Forward to October 2021 with Australia’s home tournament postponed to 2022, the team’s preparation for this year’s edition of the event in the UAE is a far cry from how things stood 18 months ago.
Aaron Finch’s team has slipped all the way to seventh in the world rankings and are on an unenviable run of five consecutive T20I series losses. It is true that star players David Warner, Glenn Maxwell, Pat Cummins and Steve Smith only featured sporadically in the format over the last year and a half while many other regulars including Finch himself sat out of a series or two, however the manner of Australia’s performances, particularly in the batting department, would have given considerable cause for alarm.
The bulk of the team’s batsmen tend to perform best when occupying a top-order, and middle-order collapses have been a frequent sight lately with players appearing uncomfortable with their roles.
One of the few players to have enhanced their reputation over the past 12 months is all-rounder Mitchell Marsh who was amongst the runs even during the extremely low-scoring five-match series versus Bangladesh, where he topped the run charts from both sides.
The return of Steve Smith and Genn Maxwell, however, leaves the Australian selectors with a very tricky proposition when it comes to structuring their batting-order. Maxwell, in particular, was in fine touch in the recently concluded Indian Premier League and will re-assume his place at number four in the batting line-up.
The left-field selection in Australia’s squad was the selection of uncapped wicketkeeper-batsman Josh Inglis as backup to Matthew Wade and there would be the temptation to give him a go as he is a more natural middle-order batsman than Wade who thrives while opening but would be compelled to bat lower down given the team composition. Inglis has been prolific at domestic eve this year and had a standout season as an overseas player for Leicesteshire in this year’s T20 Blast with 531 runs at a whopping strike rate of 175.
On the bowling-front, the team has the dependable pace trio of Pat Cummins, Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazlewood who will likely be complimented by both Ashton Agar and Adam Zampa who have regularly played in tandem over the past two years.
Should the pitches in the tournament call for it, they do have a third frontline spin option, leg-spinner Mitchell Swepson, in their ranks as well.
While never to be discounted at ICC events, Australia will be up against it to make the top two in a group which also includes England, West Indies and South Africa who will be joined by two further teams following the First Round of the competition. It is possible the game against West Indies may prove a make-or-break encounter for both sides. Much will depend on whether Australia’s big names can hit their straps on their comeback.
Main photo: Uncapped Josh Inglis (second from right) is a left-field selection in the Australian squad