Stoinis ‘puts on a clinic’, Finch admits to poor showing, Starc threatens Mankad, Agar to stay?

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Australia’s batting order is a complex mix of the haves and have-nots. 

Let’s start with the positives. Marcus Stoinis was the story of the night on Tuesday, belting Australia’s fastest ever T20I half century, bettering David Warner’s record by one ball. 

“The pressure was building on Australia,” Adam Gilchrist said in commentary. “But Stoinis has taken it on with gusto … What heroics they were. It was a wonderful display of hitting to get the job done.” 

Indeed Stoinis came in and went bang from his very first ball. The biggest criticism of Stoinis before last year’s T20 World Cup was his slow starts. He’d often eat up dots and catch up later on. He was especially vulnerable against spin early.

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Not anymore though. This year he is striking at 186 in his first nine balls, compared to 122 across his career. He used to start like a snail, now he starts like a popgun. His knock was one giant fire emoji. 

“Once I got in the plan was to keep going. To be honest I was really nervous today being home in Perth … But I’m really happy we ended up putting on a bit of a clinic there,” Stoinis said after the match when he was awarded with man of the match honours. 

PERTH, AUSTRALIA - OCTOBER 25: Marcus Stoinis of Australia celebrates his half century during the ICC Men's T20 World Cup match between Australia and Sri Lanka at Perth Stadium on October 25, 2022 in Perth, Australia. (Photo by Paul Kane/Getty Images)

(Photo by Paul Kane/Getty Images)

The Aussies didn’t just need to win against Sri Lanka, they needed to do so with a nice net run-rate booster. Stoinis and to a lesser extent Glenn Maxwell made this possible. 

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Stoinis’ 59 came from 18 deliveries and included six sixes. His brute force prompted Aaron Finch to bow to him after the win was secured. In many ways, Stoinis saved Finch from embarrassment. 

As amazing as Stoinis was, the same cannot be said for his captain…

‘Poor’ Finch still can’t take flight

OK, now to an issue that won’t go away. Aaron Finch continues to struggle against the new ball. Sometimes he survives, often he fails. But he rarely gets Australia off to a flyer anymore.

At one stage, the opener was four from 15 balls. It took until the eighth over for the hosts to hit their first boundary off the bat. There were 21 dot balls from the first six overs, which is an alarmingly high percentage. 

The truth, Australia simply can’t win a World Cup with such ordinary powerplay overs.  “Obviously my innings was unusual,” Finch conceded post-game. “It was poor.” 

So badly was Finch batting, he even asked the umpire for words of advice. “Happy to take any ideas if you know how to hit that,” Finch was overheard on the stump microphone asking Ray Illingworth. 

Finch struggled against straight balls mostly from pace bowlers, while remaining relatively accomplished against spin. He was cut in half several times and hit on the pad and thigh pad too often. His strike-rate of 73.8 is the lowest of any T20I innings where he has scored more than 15 runs. 

This problem is hardly new for Australia. Finch has been a liability in white-ball cricket for some time. His issues are even more jarring when you consider Steve Smith – who once made an ODI ton off 60 balls versus India – is carrying the drinks. 

Would Australia consider dropping Finch? Or Finch removing himself?

PERTH, AUSTRALIA - OCTOBER 25: Aaron Finch of Australia plays his shot during the ICC Men's T20 World Cup match between Australia and Sri Lanka at Perth Stadium on October 25, 2022 in Perth, Australia. (Photo by James Worsfold/Getty Images)

(Photo by James Worsfold/Getty Images)

Stoinis opens successfully for the Melbourne Stars. He could partner Warner at the top and Smith could slot into No.4. This option is highly unlikely, but it’s difficult to avoid the reality that watching Finch struggle for form is incredibly tough to stomach in a major tournament where time is running out to discover his mojo. 

Ultimately Finch made 31 not out from 42 balls. He was dropped by Bandara on 23 after mis-hitting a pull shot.

His supporters will say he guided Australia home. Yes, he did. It took guts to keep plowing on. But he is still in a slump he cannot get out of. Tougher tests await him and his teammates in the coming weeks than Sri Lanka presented in Perth.

Starc a non-starter

As Australia’s most prodigious swing bowler, it was somewhat peculiar to see Mitchell Starc snubbed in favour of Josh Hazlewood and Pat Cummins, who shared the new ball.

Yes, it happened in Canberra earlier in the summer. But the time before that in national colours was back in 2014. From 57 T20Is, Starc has opened the bowling in 53 of them. 

The Aussies have made no secret of their desire to be more flexible and Starc going for 14 against New Zealand in the first over of the tournament was probably reason enough to consider a change. Furthermore, he has taken just five powerplay wickets for Australia since the beginning of 2021. 

Accordingly, he didn’t bowl in the powerplay at the SCG and was not introduced until the fifth over on Tuesday night. 

“You keep talking about T20 and changing it up, not allowing the opposition to predict what’s coming,” Kiwi commentator Danny Morrison explained on the broadcast.

“Hazlewood is a Test match bowler who hates going for runs from the start.” 

Starc remains a lethal death bowler, which may be his most important role this World Cup, especially with Cummins going for 20 from his last over. It’s probably fair to suggest Hazlewood and Cummins are less likely to rattle the stumps early, but they are probably the ‘safer’ option from an economical perspective. 1-23 from 4 overs was a solid return for the left-armer in the end. 

Plus, Cummins’ death bowling has been poor this year. In T20Is throughout 2022, he has bowled 16 overs at the death and conceded 206 runs at 13 runs per over. 

Starc has also been vocal about running the non-striker out in recent times, offering a short run penalty as the simplest solution to stop early backing up. 

In lieu of a change to the Laws of cricket, he warned the non-striker in his first over, even though it didn’t appear Dhananjaya de Silva was leaving the crease early.

Agar not horrible at all

Adam Zampa’s omission due to Covid-19 allowed Ashton Agar to play his first T20 for Australia since June 11, which was also against Sri Lanka.

Zampa was allowed to play under more relaxed Covid legislation, but was nevertheless left out of the selected XI. 

“It was the second time he’s had Covid,” caller Mark Howard reported from ground level. “They were a bit concerned the virus would build up throughout the tournament, so they gave him a rest tonight.” 

The change mattered little. Zampa has a fantastic record against Sri Lanka (21 wickets in 12 matches, economy of 5.68), but Agar dominated them earlier this year and went three straight matches without conceding a boundary.

What Agar’s inclusion did was lengthen the batting order. He slotted into number eight, with Cummins dropping to nine and Starc sliding to 10. 

Agar is also statistically far more economical against right handers, and 19 of his 24 balls were bowled to righties Asalanka and Rajaspaksa. He did his job, but Zampa will slot back in. 

Ashton Agar of Australia celebrates the wicket of Pathum Nissanka of Sri Lanka.

Ashton Agar of Australia celebrates the wicket of Pathum Nissanka of Sri Lanka. (Photo by Paul Kane/Getty Images)

And one last thing …

David Warner’s athleticism in the field remains a feature of his game. Consider how well he moves, then look at his birth certificate. He turns 36 on Thursday! 

Warner held onto a phenomenal catch early in the night but had to flick it back at the last moment as his momentum carried him over the rope.

This was a genuine moon ball, and for Warner to chase it back to the rope, watch it come down over his right shoulder, and hold it for a short period of time was truly remarkable. 

A few minutes later, he executed a critical outfield catch just when de Silva was starting to move. 

Warner is genuinely incredible. He’s been somewhat unlucky with the bat in his two knocks thus far and will be hungry for runs against England on Friday night. 

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