Starc, Cummins face moment of truth to justify T20 spots alongside world No.1 Hazlewood after Kiwi caning

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If you cast your gaze towards the ICC rankings for T20 bowlers, it would not be a surprise to see Josh Hazlewood at the top.

The Australian seamer thoroughly deserves the No.1 ranking with his unerring accuracy of honing in on the top of off stump. Unlike most T20 exponents, he doesn’t concern himself much with variations of pace or style.

Simple and ultra effective. You can only wonder how valuable his predecessor for line and length aficionado Glenn McGrath would have been if T20 cricket was around in his prime. 

Hazlewood is surprisingly the only paceman in the top 10 for a format which was supposed to be a slaughterhouse for spinners.

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Leg-spinner Adam Zampa is Australia’s other representative on the leaderboard at seven, fitting recognition for his past few years of consistent excellence in the white-ball arenas, particularly at last year’s T20 World Cup in the UAE when he was unlucky to be beaten out by David Warner for player of the tournament honours.

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - DECEMBER 23: Mitchell Starc and Pat Cummins of Australia share a laugh during an Australia nets session at the Melbourne Cricket Ground on December 23, 2019 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Darrian Traynor/Getty Images)

(Photo by Darrian Traynor/Getty Images)

And who is the next Australian on the rankings? It’s not Hazlewood’s “big three” pace cartel comrades Pat Cummins or Mitchell Starc, it’s not even one of the batting all-rounders in the current line-up but left-arm spinner Ashton Agar at No.20. 

Starc is ranked No.42 and Cummins three slots lower in a sign that despite being undoubtedly great as they are in the Test and 50-over formats, the T20 version is their kryptonite. 

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As someone who has shunned the riches on offer in the Indian Premier League to prolong his international career, Starc’s struggles in the shortest format are understandable given he plays comparatively little T20 cricket compared to his international fast-bowling contemporaries. 

From 2015-18 he played just four T20Is as he managed his workload around the longer versions. 

Last year, including the World Cup triumph, he played 13 games for 13 wickets at 34.61 while going at 9 runs an over and in 2022 he’s bagged 10 wickets from eight matches at 24.6 while conceding 8.2 per over.

Josh Hazlewood shows his frustration.

Josh Hazlewood shows his frustration during the T20 World Cup match between Australia and New Zealand. (Photo by Mark Metcalfe-ICC/ICC via Getty Images,)

Cummins has spent six seasons in the IPL but for the Australian T20 side, like Starc, he has managed his workload to prioritise Test and then ODI goals. 

His only seven T20Is last year were at the World Cup where he took five wickets at 35.4 at 7.37 an over. This year his numbers are similar – 10 wickets at 32.4 at 8.75 an over. Cummins was last week handed the ODI captaincy on top of the Test skipper’s role. If selectors are thinking of making him T20 captain after Finch, perhaps they should consider an alternative option.

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Hazlewood was part of Australia’s white-ball tours to the Caribbean and Bangladesh in 2021 and although the team results weren’t great, he built up the T20 miles in his legs to go as close to any bowler has to mastering the intricacies of the format.

He has taken 46 wickets from 29 matches over the past two years, going for 6.87 an over last year, up to 7.5 in 2022 but for the most part he’s been easily the most reliable of the three-pronged pace attack. 

Which is why Australia were all at sea when Hazlewood also copped the treatment from Finn Allen and Devon Conway in the loss to New Zealand at the SCG on Saturday night.

Hazlewood at least stemmed the bleeding by dismissing Allen (42 off 16) in his 2-41 but with Starc (0-36) and Cummins (0-46) going wicketless while also being expensive from their four overs, it was a recipe for disaster for the home side.

Zampa bagged 1-39 from his four and Australian captain Aaron Finch brushed Glenn Maxwell and used Marcus Stoinis to soak up the remaining overs but he was ineffective while being belted for 38.

Fellow all-rounder Mitchell Marsh on Monday said he was available to bowl again at a pre-match media conference after finally overcoming an ankle problem.

He said Perth’s Optus Stadium reminded him of another pace bowler’s paradise in the Gabba and was confident the Australian seamers would lap up the conditions in their crucial clash with Sri Lanka.

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Another loss and Australia’s semi-final chances are dead and buried while wins in their remaining four group games may still not be enough to advance unless they can dramatically improve their battered net run rate. 

“We know our best is the best in the world,” he said when asked about the team’s confidence heading into the encounter.

Pat Cummins of Australia.

Pat Cummins of Australia. (Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

“I’m feeling great. I’m back bowling this game, available to bowl. I love preparing as an all-rounder and making sure I’m in the game the whole time.”

“Hopefully I can contribute a few big scores up the top and hopefully chip in with a few wickets.”

The Perth local could sense Starc, Cummins and Hazlewood were hurting after regularly being bashed to and over the SCG boundary rope. 

“We will certainly have an aggressive approach. We know that the big three bowlers, when they get going, they’re very hard to stop and I think certainly after the other night, we’ll see a big response from them.

Adam Zampa.

Adam Zampa reacts during Australia’s T20 World Cup match against New Zealand. (Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

“We got jumped in those first four overs of the power play, that’s for sure. Finn Allen played unbelievably well.

“They’re three of the best fast bowlers Australia’s ever had, three of the best in the world. All the best players in the world bounce back from whatever setback. That’s a pretty minor setback but I’m sure they’ll be fired up, they love bowling out here on fast bouncy wickets.

“Hopefully they’ll be fired up and ready to go.”

Sri Lanka are coming off a nine-wicket win over Ireland in Hobart after only just qualifying for the Super 12 stage despite dropping their first match of the tournament to minnows Namibia. 

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