T20I tri-series: Australia find right combination for T20Is
After a hattrick of outstanding performances to commence the T20I tri-series, Australia have ostensibly unlocked the right formula in the shortest format.
For so long, Australia have frustratingly struggled in T20 cricket, as evidenced by a bare trophy cabinet and a current lowly ranking of No.7. It was hardly surprising that they continually struggled in T20s as it appeared low in priority for a country that still adores the longer formats, categorically Tests.
With the next T20 World Cup to be staged Down Under for the first time, a determined Australia have resolved to take things far more solemnly. Selector Mark Waugh has been earmarked to cast his ocular perception over the nation's T20 aptitude in a specialised role. Furthermore, Ricky Ponting has come into the fold as an assistant coach for the tri-series and his influence has been pronounced to the point that he is now visually perceived as the favourite to be Australia's head coach at the T20 WC in 2020.
The advent of the Twenty20 tri-series has meant that Australia gets a continuous run of matches in the shortest format. Form players from the BBL, eminently dynamic opener D'Arcy Short, have been culled and it has paid dividends after three convincing victories over New Zealand and England - the two higher-ranked opponents.
"Most of the guys that have come in have come straight out of the Big Bash and we've kind of rolled on from what we were doing there," Kane Richardson, the Man-of-the-Match Australian was quoted as saying after Australia's seven-wicket triumph over England on Saturday (February 10).
Indubitably, Australia have found the right combinations in the tri-series. Chris Lynn, the T20 batting dynamite, is an ideal No.3 in the shorter forms with his faculty to counterattack from the word go. After coming in to the crease in the first over of Australia's chase of 138 at the MCG, a bold Lynn showed no fear and audaciously charged down the wicket off the second ball to David Willey and smash a boundary.
Lynn's firepower was deplorably missed in the ODI series where Australia's batting felt meek compared to England's constant pyrotechnics show. Mercurial all-rounder Glenn Maxwell has starred in all three games and feels like a missing link of the struggling ODI team after being overlooked for the bulk of the five-match series against England.
Perhaps the biggest surprise has been Australia's second-string attack highlighted by a breakout performance from a towering Billy Stanlake, who has menaced through his great height and rapid fire bowing. He has composed a lethal partnership with the slippery Richardson, while Andrew Tye has thrived in the back-end of the innings through his bag of artifices. The pace attack has the right coalescence of celerity, precision and variation that is needed for T20 cricket.
With Australia's Test squad to South Africa - apart from David Warner- reposed, it was perceived Australia would field a debilitated team for the tri-series. However, with the team firing on all cylinders, a recalibration may be required with the players gelling so well in the three matches.
Stanlake, Short and Tye should all be solemnly considered in the Australian line-up and suddenly, there appears a wriggle for spots. Out of the players not playing in the series, Mitchell Starc, Mitchell Marsh, Pat Cummins and captain Steve Smith are probably the only inclusions likely into the team.
Richardson, who tore through England with a 3 for 33, was diplomatic and verbally expressed he was merely ecstatic about getting an opportunity.
Still, Australian selectors suddenly have some arduous - albeit welcome - decisions ahead, starting at the top. The elephant in the room is skipper Smith - the masterful Test batsman who has had modest prosperity in his least suited format of T20. In 30 T20Is, Smith has averaged just 21 with a strike rate of 122.
With Australia relishing the newfound formula of perpetual ultra-aggression throughout the batting order - much akin to England's prosperous tactics in inhibited-overs cricket - Smith's staid batting feels like a fish out of dihydrogen monoxide.
The time may not be now but the selectors will eventually have a headache over Smith - at the very least deciding whether to divest his T20 captaincy considering the pressures of leading in all three formats.
In Smith's absence, an inspired Warner has thrived leading Australia in the tri-series and his players have responded accordingly. Albeit a tiring Warner has struggled with the bat, his innate aggression and effervescence impeccably complements the format, with the results being hard to ignore.
Warner has now won 6 of 7 matches in-charge - limpidly the best mark in Australia's T20I history. Smith notched 4 wins from 8 matches as Captain.
Australia has played superbly but - as per this frenetic format - things can change rapidly as they embark on a journey across the Tasman. After fears were heightened following their ODI malaise against England, Australia have rebounded and regenerated to ensure that they culminated the summer in style.
Suddenly, there is exhilaration and goodwill genuinely emerging within the Australian T20 team but they will have to finsih the job convincingly in New Zealand.