Australia: A team of unknown potential chasing untasted glory
The Aussies have endured tough times in T20 cricket of late but after naming an all-star squad for the tournament hopes have swelled. But will they gel in time to secure that elusive silverware?
Ahead of their first match on 23 October, we preview their tournament and break down their story so far.
On 17 February 2005, Australia and New Zealand played the first ever men’s T20I.
Both teams donned retro kits, Hamish Marshall and Michael Kasprowicz wore sweatbands straight out of the 80s – the Kiwi had an afro to match – and Glenn McGrath was shown a red card for bowling an underarm delivery.
It all felt a bit of a novelty.
Beneath the surface however it looked like yet another format for Australia to dominate. Back-to-back Cricket World Cup winners and the undisputed No.1 Test team, the Aussies had dealt New Zealand a 44-run defeat with Ricky Ponting plundering an unbeaten 98 off 55 in a total of 214/5 – still impressive even today.
Two and a half years later the inaugural ICC T20 World Cup – then known as the World Twenty20 – would be played and Australia went in amongst the favourites to win it. After all, they had taken out the 2007 Cricket World Cup with alarming ease and undoubtedly had the squad to collect a second piece of silverware for the year.
They suffered a surprise first-up defeat against Zimbabwe but bounced back to beat England to reach the next stage of the tournament where they recovered from a loss to Pakistan to book a semi-final berth against India. One Yuvraj Singh epic later and they were out of the tournament. Nevertheless, a trophy win only seemed a matter of time for the Australians, with Matthew Hayden (265 runs at 88.33) topping the run-scoring and Stuart Clark (12 wickets at 12) second on the wicket-takers list.
They crashed out without a win from the 2009 edition but in 2010 it looked like the wait was coming to an end. Unbeaten through both group stages, they stunned defending champions Pakistan in the semi-finals, where Mike Hussey stepped up with an unbeaten 60 off 24 to register one of the tournament’s finest ever innings. It wasn’t to be, however, as they went down to rivals England in the decider. Still, in making the Final it seemed they had turned the corner. Surely, they would not be waiting too much longer to get their hands on the trophy.
Eleven years and three tournaments later, the wait goes on, and on form, it may go on longer yet.
The Australians have lost each of their past five T20I series and this year have a 4-11 win-loss ratio. Alongside that formline, they’ve been drawn in a group with world champions West Indies, who just recently beat them 4-1, and 2016 runners up England, who defeated them 2-1 in 2020. The third confirmed opponent in the group, South Africa, who are on a hot streak in the format. Few would make them favourites to get out of their group let alone win the tournament.
But write Australia off at your own peril. Right now, they may only sit sixth on the ICC Men’s T20I rankings but up until December 2020, they were the No.1 team in the world, spending 212 days in that position for the year.
That was a ranking attained off the back of four straight T20I series victories – with 10 wins across 11 matches – through 2019 and the start of 2020. While form from that far back may seem irrelevant, it may actually be the data that matters most from Australia going into this tournament. Through 2021 they have not had close to a full-strength XI – most of their biggest stars missed the tours of West Indies and Bangladesh, while Test members Steve Smith, David Warner, Pat Cummins, Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazlewood all missed the 3-2 loss to New Zealand as they were meant to be on a Test tour in South Africa.
While they were close to full strength in series losses against England and India, each of those campaigns were split 2-1. Those are promising signs given they are the two top teams on the rankings.
Granted, you can’t draw too many conclusions from those tea leaves, but what is clear is that Australia’s squad on paper is among the very best in the tournament.
Globally, there are just 11 batters (minimum 20 innings) with a strike rate better than 150 in men’s T20I cricket. Among those 11, only four boast an average better than 30. One of those is Evin Lewis (average 31.14, strike rate 158.03), who can be expected to have a big say for the West Indies. Another is New Zealand’s Colin Munro (average 31.34, strike rate 156.44), who has not made the cut for this year’s tournament.
The other two both play for Australia. One is, of course, Glenn Maxwell (average 31.72, strike rate 158.92), who has the best strike rate of any batter with a minimum of 20 innings. The other is captain Aaron Finch (average 37.46, strike rate 150.24), who boasts the best average of the 11 in the 150+ club.
Throw in Warner, Smith, and all-rounders Marcus Stoinis and Mitchell Marsh and you’ve got a dauntingly powerful batting order.
On the bowling front, their spin twins Adam Zampa and Ashton Agar have been locks in the top 10 of the MRF Tyres ICC’s T20I bowling rankings. While fast bowlers Hazlewood, Cummins, Starc and Kane Richardson all sit some way lower down the rankings, there won’t be a batter looking forward to facing any of them.
No wonder Maxwell is sounding confident heading into the tournament.
“I think they’re very good,” Maxwell told icc-cricket.com of Australia’s hopes at the T20 World Cup. “When this team comes together, I think we’ll slip straight back into us being in a great position. We’re all looking forward to it.
“You look through our line-up, we’ve got a team full of match winners and guys that on their day can take the game away from the opposition. I think that’s what it’s going to take. Any day when it’s one of our players’ chance to go and win us a game – if we can take that (chance) it’s going to be hard for anyone to stop us.”
Nevertheless, as promising as it looks on paper, we won't truly know how good this Australian team is until we see it in action.
The Aussies start their campaign on 23 October against South Africa and you’ll be wanting to watch that match.
Aaron Finch (c), Ashton Agar, Pat Cummins (vc), Josh Hazlewood, Josh Inglis, Mitchell Marsh, Glenn Maxwell, Kane Richardson, Steve Smith, Mitchell Starc, Marcus Stoinis, Mitchell Swepson, Matthew Wade, David Warner, Adam Zampa
23 Oct – v South Africa
28 Oct – v Sri Lanka
30 Oct – v England
4 Nov – v Bangladesh
6 Nov – v West Indies
Best finish: Runners up – 2010
The T20 World Cup has continually been a case of so close yet so far for Australia. Defeated in the semi-finals by eventual champions India in 2007, the Australians lost the Final against England in 2010. In 2012 they reached the semi-finals again, and once again lost to the eventual champions as they were blown away by the West Indies. They will be looking to reach the knockout stages for the first time since 2012 this year.
Look out for
Mitchell Marsh stepped up in a big way for Australia in their tours of the Caribbean and Bangladesh, doing his utmost to fill the gap left by the absence of several key players. It wasn’t enough to save Australia from 4-1 defeats in each campaign, but he ended both series with his reputation enhanced.
That was particularly true against the West Indies, where he was Australia’s highest run-scorer (219 at 43.80 with a strike rate of 152.08) and wicket-taker (eight wickets at 9.7, economy of 6.76).
With four fifties from his past 10 innings, he has gone from being on the periphery of Australia’s T20 thoughts to being a potential central figure. The challenge for Australia will be working out how to make the most of his talents alongside the returning stars. The challenge for Marsh will be adjusting to life lower down the order if Steve Smith is seen as the No.3 – the all-rounder’s success of late has come at first drop.
Across international cricket’s three formats, T20Is are the ones that can most often be swung in the space of a handful of deliveries. It makes batters with the ability to clear the ropes regularly invaluable. Having one that catches fire early in the tournament, can make or break a team’s campaign.
In Maxwell, Australia have one of the most inventive and explosive batters in the game. He boasts the best strike rate of anyone who has batted at least 20 times in T20I cricket, scoring at a strike rate of 158.92. That number goes up to 160 in T20 World Cups – a number bettered only by Daren Sammy in tournament history (minimum 125 balls).
Importantly, he is a brilliant player of spin, which will be crucial in the UAE and particularly important to an Australian team that’s biggest issue against West Indies and Bangladesh was taking on the turning ball.
When Australia’s men’s team last tasted success at an ICC event – the Cricket World Cup 2015 – Maxwell was a central figure, averaging 64.80 with a strike rate of 182.02. If he can find touch anything like that this time around, Australia’s chances skyrocket.
England - Australia went down 2-1 when they last took on England in a T20I series but pushed the hosts all the way, losing the opening match by just two runs. A victory over the top-ranking men's T20I team in the world would be