Australia retained their number one ranking by getting over the line in the third and final T20 international against England, winning by five wickets. They produced two underwhelming batting performances in the first two T20Is that was the significant reason behind their series defeat, especially in the first.
The tourists’ best batsman was their skipper Aaron Finch, who scored nearly at least 40 runs in all three games. Australia’s bowling also fared well, for the most part, keeping the English batting line-up in check in the first and third game. Perhaps, it was their middle-order that was the most significant cause of concern, almost costing them the final match and the number one ranking.
We take a look at four talking points from the Australia-England T20 series:
Aaron Finch’s diminishing but useful returns at the top:
Australian captain Aaron Finch played the anchor role in all three games, scoring 46, 40, and 39 to keep the tourists steadying. However, the number three T20I batsman could not convert any of those to substantial scores, which he richly deserved or enough to ensure a series victory. Finch’s most fluent innings was in the first game when he put on 98 for the opening stand with David Warner, marking a bright start.
Chris Jordan stunned him with a short-pitched delivery zooming in during the second delivery. A risky inside-out drive in the third game against Adil Rashid in a track that was a raging turner resulted in his downfall.
As far as Finch’s captaincy goes, he still remains the best man for the job and has to lead in the 2021 T20 World Cup and possibly the next one at home too. He arguably is even after making the highly questionable decision of giving Adam Zampa the 19th over in the second game even as the skipper had Pat Cummins and Kane Richardson as options.
The Steve Smith dilemma:
Before the start of the series, Steve Smith clarified that his role is to stabilize the innings if their much-vaunted batting line-up collapses. As displayed by him in the third T20 against South Africa this year, Steve Smith’s 30 off 15 balls at number five showcased his potential as a finisher before playing equally well at number three.
As things stood in these three T20Is, he was unable to perform neither of those roles. Smith smashed two boundaries in his first two deliveries of the series before his dismissal began killing their chase. He looked set for a big score in the second as a needless single cost him his wicket.
At number five in the final T20I, all Smith had to do was keep knocking the singles and let Mitchell Marsh take in charge of playing the big shots, which Marsh eventually did to tie Australia home. However, he gifted Adil Rashid his third consecutive wicket in the final over of his spell.
During the scores of 10, 11, and 3, there were signs of Steve Smith not feeling composed at the crease and being at control. At some point over the next year, Australia might have to start grooming the likes of Marnus Labuschagne or Josh Philippe.
Smith would arguably be an asset for the 2021 T20 World Cup; however, he has to deliver impactful performances at the roles he plays and with consistency. Marcus Stoinis made three handy scores, which could lead the selectors not to lose faith on him yet as did Mitchell Marsh and Matthew Wade, both of who impressed in their only outing. Hence, it further enhances Smith’s need to keep himself ticking along fairly frequently.
Ashton Agar’s rise as an indispensable T20 cricketer:
Ashton Agar has perhaps become one of the most improved and impactful cricketers during Australia’s rise to the summit of T20 rankings. While not a big spinner of the ball, Agar temps the batsmen into making mistakes. The left-arm spinner’s 20 out of his 30 T20I career wickets have come in the last 11 months, including a five-wicket haul that arrived alongside a hattrick.
Not only he kept Australia floating in all three games with the bat but also with the ball. Agar finished with five wickets in three games at 18.80 apiece with his best figures of 4-0-27-2 coming in the second. Agar took wickets of Jos Buttler in the first, Dawid Malan in the second, and Jonny Bairstow in the third – all of which halted their charges at crucial junctures.
With the bat, the 26-year old is slowly rising to the challenge of a finisher, if not an explosive one. In the second and third T20I, he did precisely what the situation demanded. Agar shared two vital stands with Glenn Maxwell and Pat Cummins in the second game to drive Australia past 150.
At 100-5 and needing 46 more to bag a consolation win, the southpaw ran briskly between the wickets for a couple of twos in the 14th over bowled by Jofra Archer. He hung around during Mitchell Marsh’s composed knock before getting a boundary to reduce the equation to requiring three. Thus, Agar’s rise and his all-round skills have made him a near-certainty in Australia’s T20 line-up.
Josh Hazlewood, the first-choice pick in T20I internationals?
On Tuesday, Josh Hazlewood played his first T20I international in four years and was their second-best bowler for them. Josh Hazlewood’s probing line and length with the new ball got the better of Tom Banton. It was only in his third over that the seamer became slightly awry.
Despite conceding the fourth boundary off his final over, Hazlewood finished with figures of 4-0-23-1, which was the second-best that night. It calls for a case of whether Hazlewood is a must for limited-overs too. The skipper deserves as much credit for utilizing Hazlewood well and not exposing him at the death.
As a disciplined seamer, who bowls nagging line and lengths, he has made a compelling case for an extended run as a new-ball bowler. Hazlewood still has time to hone his craft as he will head to the UAE for his IPL commitments under MS Dhoni to bowl on wickets familiar to the ones in India.
With Kane Richardson’s cutters and variations slated to be handy in the sub-continent, he will indeed remain in the mix too. Australia could also afford to groom Riley Meredith, who is capable of bowling express pace as are the likes of Daniel Sams, Sean Abbott, and Andrew Tye, who deserve opportunities. At the same time, it would be hard to ignore the experience and lose sight of Mitchell Starc and Pat Cummins at this point.