In the lead-up to the T20 World Cup defence on home soil last October, the national selectors decided they couldn’t have both Aaron Finch and Steve Smith in the batting line-up.
They’re too similar, they can score at a decent rate and even consistently clear the boundaries when they get going but as the T20 game gravitates towards instant power hitters, either Finch or Smith would have to go.
And despite calls from across the nation in the lead-up to the tournament for the out-of-form captain to be the one who missed out, the selectors stuck by Finch.
It was the wrong call then and it looks even worse now.
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Finch’s middling form was not the sole reason Australia failed to defend their World Cup crown but it was the kind of call that teams can’t make when they’re expected to be lifting the trophy or at the very least, in the running.
The fact that Australia missed the semi-finals shows they need a major reboot.
For several years Australia have struggled in the men’s T20 arena with the 2021 World Cup win in the UAE the outlier rather than a firm indication of the team’s standing on the global pecking order.
The Aussies don’t suit up again in the game’s shortest format again until they take on the Proteas in South Africa in August so there’s no rush to make any decisions right now as the BBL is coming to an end.
However, it’s clear that the new breed needs to get some game time in the national squad.
Finch has been doing well for the Renegades to be the third-leading runscorer heading into the finals with 418 at 41.8, going at a strike rate of 122.58.
He is still yet to announce whether he will be retiring from T20 internationals after falling on his ODI sword earlier in the summer following a dismal run of form in the Top End clashes with Zimbabwe and New Zealand.
His BBL form proves he can continue on at franchise level but surely at an appropriate time in the not-too-distant future he will call time on his international career, otherwise the selectors would be negligent in their duty if they allow him to keep trying to run out the clock after averaging 28.44 and striking at 119.9 in 2022, the worst calendar year of his career.
His long-time Australian opening partner, David Warner, has failed to deliver bang for the bucks Cricket Australia coughed up for him to play in the BBL instead of heading to the UAE’s new league for a considerably heftier contract.
In five matches he’s cobbled together a measly 63 runs at 12.6 for the Sydney Thunder, striking at well below 100. This relatively small sample size doesn’t necessarily mean he should be dropped but his hopes of playing on until next year’s World Cup in the US and Caribbean are hanging by a thread with so many younger options beating down the proverbial selection door.
No one has scored more than Matt Short’s 458 at the top of the order this summer for Adelaide, walloping bowlers at a 144.47 strike rate, and after a breakout season last year, he’s shown he is worth a shot at international level.
Young all-rounder Aaron Hardie is another rising star who can no longer be denied higher honours after his 434 runs at clips of 48.22 and 142.76.
Mitch Marsh, Marcus Stoinis and Glenn Maxwell have been the middle-order all-rounders for several years but are all the wrong side of 30 and no guarantee to be part of Australia’s T20 future.
The wildcard is Cameron Green, who has sat out the BBL due to his finger injury. Whether he becomes a T20 opener or middle-order specialist remains to be seen, as well as whether he can cope with the workload of the IPL plus three formats at international level.
Smith’s move up to opener has yielded explosive results for the Sydney Sixers as he’s annihilated records and bowling attacks in equal measures in his back-to-back hundreds and 66 off 33 against the Hurricanes during the week.
The 33-year-old Test vice-captain has been non-committal about his T20 future and clearly doesn’t need to make his mind up anytime soon but if he puts next year’s World Cup on his to-do list, a spot at the top of the order should be his for the taking.
The captaincy could also be thrown his way to ease the load on Pat Cummins as a short-term stopgap measure while a younger option is groomed for the role.
With wicketkeeper Matthew Wade indicating his international days are numbered, Perth’s Josh Inglis is his clear successor in the T20 format with his power hitting and neat glovework.
Inglis being installed as the T20 keeper would probably help ease the workload on Alex Carey, who is much more suited to the ODI and Test styles.
At 27, the West Australian already has plenty of experience and could be the skipper for the side now rather than in a year or two while Cummins looks after the leadership in the two longer formats.
Spin wise, Adam Zampa is an elite white-ball bowler who should be in the national set-up for a few more years while Todd Murphy, as he’s done with the red ball, has emerged from the pack to be the heir apparent.
The Sixers using Murphy ahead of Nathan Lyon is perhaps a sign of things to come.
Cummins, Josh Hazlewood and Mitchell Starc, after he was controversially dropped for the final T20 World Cup game, cannot continue in all three formats forever and the experienced trio need to prioritise series and formats sooner rather than later.
Nathan Ellis has been good not great in the BBL but he deserves more of a chance in the Australian T20 side after impressing in his first few white-ball opportunities in the national side while Jhye Richardson should be the pace spearhead of the future once he shakes off his bad run of injuries.
Renegades seamer Tom Rogers and Hobart’s Riley Meredith with 21 wickets apiece have mounted strong cases for green and gold call-ups while Sixers speedster Sean Abbott (25 wickets at 14.76) and Perth’s AJ Tye (24 at 18.45) are as reliable as ever even though they’re both in the veteran stages.
Injuries and form in other domestic leagues will have an impact over the next six months before the selectors need to settle on their squad for the future but one thing’s for sure is that the time is right to make a few changes to ensure the Australians don’t again cost themselves a shot at winning the next World Cup.