On the 1st of September, 2020, Pakistan exposed the slight frailties that existed in England’s T20 machinery. The Men In Green posted a significant total on the board, tightened the screws through the middle phases of the Three Lions’ batting essay and then hammered the nails into the hosts’ coffin in the death overs.
Thus, a 3-game T20I rubber later, England seem to be plagued by some of the ailments that have caused them more than a furrowed brow recently.
In the absence of Messrs. Ben Stokes and Jos Buttler, the Three Lions batting looked incredibly top-heavy, while the lack of wicket-taking options sans Jofra Archer also painted a pretty grim picture.
Subsequently, the succeeding T20I series against Australia has gained more importance for England, not just because they’re hoping to establish a blueprint for the T20 World Cup in 2021, but also due to the fact that they are facing Australia – an assignment that will definitely set the pulse racing.
The Australians, having been the last team to play cricket in the pre-COVID-19 era, have not taken the field since. Though Australia left no stone unturned on the preparation front, they arrive in the United Kingdom woefully short of match practice.
Yet, with the galaxy of stars at their disposal, one reckons that Australia might not find it as tough to adapt to their surroundings.
To put things into perspective, Australia boast perhaps the most dynamic opening white-ball pairing in Aaron Finch and David Warner, whereas bowlers of the ilk of Mitchell Starc and Pat Cummins are a handful on any given day, irrespective of the format.
Hence, with only a couple of days remaining before the series begins proper, there are several intriguing aspects to keep an eye on.
However, one feels none might be as fascinating as the prospect of unsung heroes writing their own chapter in an illustrious and storied rivalry.
Without further ado, here is a look at three dark horses who could prove to be the decisive tilting scale in the 3-match T20I series, which begins on 4th September, 2020 at the Ageas Bowl.
3. Glenn Maxwell (Australia)
At the start of the decade, not many cricketers had set the expectation bar as high as Glenn Maxwell. Blessed with the ability to turn matches on its head, the all-rounder seemed to be the perfect addition to an Australian side that brimmed with quality.
However, even in 2020, it would be hard to argue that Glenn Maxwell has optimized his potential completely. Though there have been the odd instances where the Victorian has taken the world by storm (most notably the 2015 CWC), those have been far and few in between.
More tellingly though, the complete lack of output during his troughs has perhaps cast him as someone on the periphery of Australian cricket, rather than the protagonist many had envisioned.
A year ago, Glenn Maxwell took an indefinite break from cricket in order to fight mental health problems – a decision that was met extremely well by the cricketing fraternity.
And, post that, the all-rounder has looked a player with more clarity and indeed, a cricketer who understands the responsibility his potential warrants.
Thus, the series against England could be the watershed moment in Glenn Maxwell’s topsy-turvy international career.
In fact, the Australian averages a shade over 32 against the Three Lions and boasts a healthy strike rate in excess of 150. Additionally, he has previously scored a T20I hundred against England, meaning that he certainly has fond memories of facing Eoin Morgan’s troops.
Furthermore, there seems to be a general consensus that time might be running out for Glenn Maxwell to translate talent into consistent performances – displays that will shed the tag of him being an occasional ‘X-Factor’ cricketer.
Glenn Maxwell definitely knows the raw ability he has at his disposal and in a few days’ time, he might want to let the world know about it too.
2. Tom Banton (England)
Yet, the past few months have showcased that Tom Banton, often envisaged as the perennial second-choice, might just have more of a say, especially when it comes to England choosing their premier white-ball sides.
Against Pakistan, Tom Banton was at his imperious best. He drove the ball exquisitely and was severe on anything that was pitched short. Moreover, he was swift to use his feet against the spinners and wasn’t afraid to unfurl innovative shots when the situation demanded.
Most importantly though, for the first time in his brief international career, he looked a batsman that was batting without a cluttered mind.
Thus, as the Australian caravan rolls into town and Jason Roy continues nursing a side strain, Tom Banton has the opportunity to solidify his position at the top of the order.
And, he will be up against bowlers who he might have faced in the Big Bash League, which was perhaps the first time the cricketing fraternity drew collective gasps at his batting.
Through his cricket journey, Tom Banton has been compared to a certain Kevin Pietersen. And, we all know how Kevin Pietersen announced himself on the international stage, don’t we?
1. Riley Meredith (Australia)
The past few decades have seen a number of Australian fast bowlers thrill the audiences with their sheer pace. And, Riley Meredith seems to be cut out from exactly the same cloth.
Capable of clocking speeds in excess of 145kmph, the fast bowler has turned heads with his ability to generate bounce off a length. Though he isn’t the most experienced bowler in the Australian touring party, he is probably the pacer that can cause the biggest splash of them all.
With Ben Stokes and Jason Roy absent from the English squad, there seems to be a dearth of batsmen who are adept at battling quick fast bowlers.
Eoin Morgan has historically looked circumspect against the short ball while Dawid Malan has also not been too comfortable against searing pace. And, as far as Moeen Ali is concerned, his problems against that sort of bowling are pretty well-documented.
And, then, there is also the small matter of the English batsman not having faced Riley Meredith too much.
Thus, there are plenty of facets that seemed to be aligned in Riley Meredith’s favour, especially if Australia are brave enough to unleash his pace at the outset.
A week ago, Shane Warne was effusive in his praise for the fast bowler, stating that the latter was perhaps the most exciting addition the Australian squad.
And, history tells us that Shane Warne is rarely wrong when it comes to identifying talent and that he seldom gets overboard for someone who might not cut it at the top level.
Not a lot of pressure on Riley Meredith then, eh?