Australia and the all-round gamble

Trying to fix a team without the main piece.

There is a gamble teams make in T20 all the time based on the fact there really aren’t that many all-rounders in the world. At franchise level, it’s often bad planning, or just the other teams got in first. And so you end up with a number seven who gets a nosebleed from batting this high. Shoutout to Jhye Richardson and Chris Jordan from Punjab this year.

For a franchise, it’s something you can fix by finding an overseas player or at the next mega auction. For an international team, I am not sure what you do.

For generations, teams like Australia dominated ODI cricket with often weak fifth bowlers. Darren Lehmann bowled left-arm door knobs for years. And averaged five overs a game, in what was one of the best ODI sides ever. Viv Richards averaged five overs a game by trying to make people feel uncomfortable for hitting his offspin.

But in T20 cricket, and even modern ODIs, cheating on your fifth bowler is hard. There are times where it works. Your fifth bowler might be a combination of a part-time leggie, and he gets a bunch of right-handers to bowl too. And the pitch is slow, so your sixth bowler delivers slower balls as the track dies. So you can combine them easily enough on some days.

But what you are doing is hoping your front line bowlers have got you ahead of the game, so that no one can attack your fifth option. So more often your fifth bowler gambles only come off if you’re already in front, which is a good place to start, or a bunch of matchups and conditions are in your favour. No one would choose this option.

Despite dominating all sorts of cricket over the last 100 odd years, Australia has found all-rounders really hard to find. You can see my life’s work on the subject here.

And so Australia has a lot of all-round options in their squad here, but no actual all-rounders.

Aaron Finch

Ashton Agar

Pat Cummins

Josh Hazlewood

Josh Inglis

Mitchell Marsh

Glenn Maxwell

Kane Richardson

Steve Smith

Mitchell Starc

Marcus Stoinis

Mitchell Swepson

Matthew Wade

David Warner

Adam Zampa

Ashton Agar has a career strike rate of 114; to place him at number seven helps the bowling problems but completely opens up the batting.

He’s not even close to being a domestic number seven, let alone international. They may try this later if they get desperate, but this year in 12 matches this year Agar averages 6.7.

Pat Cummins is a wildcard at number seven, he has played there in franchise cricket, but in 13 innings there in his career, he averages 17 and strikes at 123. It’s not a lot of innings, but I assume part of the reason is that he cannot play spin.

He scores at less than a run a ball, and averages under 15 against it. Cummins is an ideal number eight; he can slog two or three sixes at the end against quicks.

Mitchell Marsh stared as a fairly common sixth bowling option in T20. The longer his career has done the yess he has bowled.

He’s expensive, though he can take wickets, and teams seem to have moved on from any pretence that he is an all rounder.

Glenn Maxwell is an exceptional sixth bowler; he’s confident, has good tactics, likes to bowl, and on a good day looks like a high-quality option. On a bad day he’s chum. And in his entire career he’s only averaged 2 overs per match in one year.

Asking him to be a frontline bowler here would be a huge.

Someone will mention Mitchell Starc in the comments; he averages 10 in T20 cricket with a strike rate of 922 from 37 innings. But Starc is actually an ideal pinch-hitting prospect against a team with leg-spin. This is him against leg-spin in Tests.

He’s not an all rounder.

Marcus Stoinis is a clever cricketer; he has a fast arm, is strong, and can surprise people with his bouncer. He is also in the middle of his worst-ever year bowling.

He’ll have some good moments, but he’s at best a sixth option.

Someone in a chat earlier today suggested Cameron Green to me, he’s bowled two overs in a T20. Dan Christian and Daniel Sams are in the expanded squad as back-ups. Australia has had plenty of chance to get someone like Christian right for this tournament he is clearly an above-average talent in all T20. And they’ve given him 23 games in 11 years. Sams is such a weird talent, not sure he is good enough with bat or ball at international level. Though he can be fun as hell.

And so what Australia have started within this tournament is Glenn Maxwell and Marcus Stoinis combined. In the first game it worked pretty well as Maxwell got some good matchups, South Africa struggled early on and the pitch took turn.

In the match against Sri Lanka it didn’t work. Maxwell went up against lefties, but they still took him down. Stoinis had to step up, and bowled one good over, before getting punished later on, and realistically was probably lucky not to go for way more.

But Australia won both of these matches. To win this tournament, you probably need to win a minimum of five matches, maybe six, and of course the last two. Australia has won both of their matches after winning the toss and batting second. They were shaky against South Africa, much better against Sri Lanka. When Australia plays better teams, will they cover the fifth bowler with their four front liners?

This is the gamble Australia takes into most major tournaments. It is really the top order and Mitchell Starc who cover it, or they don’t.