SOUTHAMPTON: One of England’s most extraordinary seasons will end with them facing arch-rivals Australia as both sides try to strike a balance between playing their strongest limited-overs teams and keeping an eye on the future.
The novel coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic threatened to wipe out England’s entire home season yet they are now set to complete all 18 scheduled men’s internationals, albeit the fixtures have been played behind closed doors.
They face Australia in three Twenty20 Internationals at the Ageas Bowl, starting from Friday, before taking on their oldest foes in three One-day Internationals at Old Trafford in Manchester later this month.
The Twenty20s should have served as preparation for October’s T20 World Cup in Australia but the Covid-19 outbreak means the next edition of the global showpiece will take place in India in 2021.
That does give both teams time to fine-tune their line-ups but equally they may want to give their strongest XIs as much as time as they can in their middle.
Australia are currently the world’s top-ranked T20 side, with much of their success built on a top order featuring captain Aaron Finch, David Warner and Steve Smith.
So even though the likes of Marcus Stoinis and Marnus Labuschagne have been in the runs during Australia’s warm-up matches in England, they are unlikely to displace the three premier batsmen.
“We’ve had a pretty settled T20 side over the last 12 months or so and all we can ask for is that guys bang so hard they are putting pressure on the guys in there,” said Australia head coach Justin Langer, who can also call upon Glenn Maxwell in the middle-order after he took a break to deal with mental health issues.
England beat Australia in the semi-finals on the way to winning last year’s 50-over World Cup and white-ball captain Eoin Morgan believes consistency of selection is important if they are to replicate that triumph in the T20 equivalent.
“I don’t think we can have a scenario where we can play the majority of our games with a half-strength team and then expect to go into a World Cup as contenders when guys don’t know their roles or haven’t been familiarised with them,” he said.
England were without several multi-format players during their recent T20 series with Pakistan that ended in a 1-1 draw at Old Trafford on Tuesday.
The likes of 21-year-old opener Tom Banton starred against Pakistan but Jos Buttler could now regain his place at the top of the order.
World Cup-winning fast bowlers Jofra Archer and Mark Wood will provide extra firepower to an attack still without star all-rounder Ben Stokes, who remains on compassionate leave while he spends time with his ill father.
Meanwhile, Labuschagne may have to wait to make his Twenty20 international debut despite a dazzling start to the tour, according to captain Aaron Finch.
Labuschagne, a breakout star of last year’s drawn Ashes campaign in England, scored 100 off 51 balls when opening in a T20 trial game on Tuesday.
But with Finch and Warner established as an opening pair and Smith a powerful presence in the top order, the 26-year-old may be unable to force his way into Australia’s side to play England.
“We’re pretty settled with how we structure our T20 side at the moment,” Finch told a conference call on Thursday. “He [Labuschagne] played nicely the other day, but I think he might have to wait a little bit longer in T20 cricket.”
Wicket-keeper Alex Carey struck 107 in the same innings as Labuschagne, while Maxwell hit 108 in a 50-over warm-up match.
“It’s been a really good hit out the last few days,” said Finch. “Obviously with Maxwell getting a hundred, Marnus, Alex Carey all getting hundreds in two different formats is really pleasing.”
Finch knows the Southampton ground well — he hit a then T20 world record 156 against England at Hampshire’s headquarters in 2013.
“Your defensive bowling becomes really important because it’s a wicket that has a touch more pace than some other wickets around the country,” explained Finch.
“So it gives you the opportunity to hit through the line and take the game on a little bit earlier on in your innings than what you generally would.”
The remaining two matches will be played on Sunday (6:15pm PST) and Sunday (10:00pm PST).
ENGLAND: Tom Banton, Jonny Bairstow, Dawid Malan, Eoin Morgan (captain), Moeen Ali, Jos Buttler, Sam Curran, Tom Curran, Chris Jordan, Adil Rashid, Jofra Archer, Joe Denly, Mark Wood, Sam Billings.
AUSTRALIA: David Warner, Aaron Finch (captain), Glenn Maxwell, Mitchell Marsh, Steve Smith, Alex Carey, Ashton Agar, Pat Cummins, Mitchell Starc, Riley Meredith, Adam Zampa, Jason Hazlewood, Marcus Labuschagne, Marcus Stoinis.
Published in Dawn, September 4th, 2020