At the third time of asking in a tight chase, Australia’s middle order got them across the line. After making a mess of things in Port Elizabeth back in February and the opening match of this series they threatened a repeat as Adil Rashid spun them round corners, but Mitchell Marsh overcame a jittery start to see them home.
However, have these three matches got Australia closer to knowing who is part of their best middle order as they plan for the 2021 T20 World Cup? Despite the No. 1 ranking, which the consolation victory retained, it was the area of uncertainty heading into this series and remains that way. It would have been interesting to see how they would have lined up had the tournament remained in Australia next month.
While a degree of flexibility is to be expected, even encouraged, in a T20 batting order the only member of the top order to stay in the same position through the series was captain Aaron Finch (albeit his opening partner David Warner was rested for the final game). Steven Smith – 31 runs in three innings – started at No. 3 and finished at No. 5; Marcus Stoinis started at No. 5 and finished at No. 3; Glenn Maxwell was at No. 4 and No. 6 and Alex Carey went from five to three to out of the side.
The omission of Carey was an interesting decision. Unlike Warner and Pat Cummins, the indication was he had been omitted rather than rested. He had cracked a century and a half-century in the final pair of intersquad warm-up matches, but looked out of sorts in the first two T20Is – dismissed by Mark Wood’s pace on both occasions.
He did not get a bat at all in six matches in the last Australian summer against Sri Lanka and Pakistan and in 30 T20Is the most deliveries he has faced in an innings is 24 which came in his ninth match back in 2018. As with so many of Australia’s batsmen, he has forged his T20 domestic career at the top of the order with the Adelaide Strikers, either as an opener or at No. 4.
He was previously left out of the T20 side against India early last year when Peter Handscomb was given the gloves to help balance the side. This time Matthew Wade came in and opened alongside Finch, although that will not be a permanent move given Warner has that position locked. However, it feels as though the jury is still out over Carey’s batting role in T20Is.
Before the series Justin Langer said that Stoinis was better suited to the top order which made his initial return for the opening match somewhat of a surprise. His 26 off 18 balls in the final match, batting at No. 3, was certainly more akin to the displays he has shown in the BBL and his 35 off 26 balls in the second match came when he had some time to get settled.
Maxwell, playing his first international cricket since last October, played two shots against Rashid that were probably uncalled for in the situations – driving to cover in the first match and reverse sweeping to fine leg in the third – but they are part of the package that comes with him. He has it in him to win matches off his own bat and his offspin is very useful.
There is a school of thought that Smith, with his ability to place the ball and read a game situation, could be a solution in the middle order, particularly in a chasing scenario, to allow the heavy hitters to slot higher up. That is how the series finished, although Smith chipped a return catch to Rashid for 3.
In what was Australia’s first cricket for six months there does not have to be a huge amount read into what happened over these three matches but, assuming the T20Is against India take place later in the year, there will be intrigue into which combinations of the middle order they utilise.
It also feels there could yet be a chance for someone to push their case during the BBL. Last season Jonathan Wells stood out as a finisher for the Adelaide Strikers and was touted for a possible international call-up. If anyone can make a name for themselves in that role, there could yet be a chance for them to make the step up.