Steve Smith and Cameron Green are almost certain to stay on the sidelines on Tuesday night when Australia faces Sri Lanka in a must-win T20 World Cup showdown in Perth.
The XI that was shocked by New Zealand at the SCG on Saturday night is set to be given a second chance having been backed in by selectors long before the tournament began.
Losing to the Black Caps in the opening match might not have been part of the script — but nor was hitting the panic switch and chopping and changing after one game.
That said, just one defeat has already put Australia in dangerous territory.
Another will trigger a full-blown crisis that will inevitably lead to tough questions, with potentially brutal answers.
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The World Cup moves awfully fast and if games aren’t being won — or are being done so unconvincingly — then drastic action could be taken quickly.
That would open the door to both Smith and Green who will not be far from selectors’ thoughts after Saturday’s annihilation.
“I don’t think you can be that structured and just say ‘this is our team for the whole tournament’,’ former selector Mark Waugh told foxsports.com.au on Monday. “Because there’s going to be different conditions, different match-ups.
“I think they’ll play the same team in the second game no doubt about it … You’ve got Cam Green and Steve Smith sort of lurking, they could play a part at some stage.”
In the space of just over 24 hours on the weekend, the value a player like Smith can add to the team in 20-over cricket was brought back into sharp focus.
On Saturday, Australia lost three wickets inside the powerplay, forcing its more explosive batters, such as Glenn Maxwell, Marcus Stoinis and Tim David, to the crease early.
None could stop the trainwreck as Australia continued to lose wickets regularly until the torture was ended in the 18th over, with the hosts all out for 111.
It’s unlikely Smith would have turned such a heavy defeat into a win, but his game awareness, leadership, and supreme batting talents might’ve at least set Australia up to have a chance with a big finish.
Australia awful in opening clash defeat | 03:52
On Sunday morning, that suggestion might’ve seen you laughed out of the building, but by Monday morning it surely had plenty of merit.
Responsible for that was Virat Kohli’s 53-ball masterpiece at the MCG, which was executed with India in strife at almost every turn.
There was the loss of 4-21 after 6.1 overs. After 10 overs, India still only had 4-45 on the board. Then, with three overs remaining, India still needed 48.
India somehow won with a ball remaining, chasing down Pakistan’s 8-159 in one of the greatest T20 matches of all times.
Speculating about how any player could have a Kohli-like influence on a match seems laughable in just about every instance — except when you’re talking about Smith.
A clinic in match management across more than 15 overs, with a big finish at the death, does not feel out of Smith’s wheelhouse.
It’s also worth noting that Australia is one of the odd ones out among cricket’s powerhouses when it comes to including its most talented all-formats batter in the side.
India has Kohli, Pakistan has Babar Azam, New Zealand has Kane Williamson.
England is the exception, going for a big-hitting top seven that Australia has attempted to emulate with the inclusion of Tim David over Smith.
Only time will tell whether Australia followed the right model, although David is not the only player Smith could replace in the Australian XI.
Marcus Stoinis and Glenn Maxwell play similar roles to David, and neither have exactly set the scoreboard alight in recent times.
Since the start of the season in August, Stoinis averages 14.14 and Maxwell 12.00 from eight and 13 innings respectively across both white ball formats.
There’s also opener Aaron Finch, who averages 13.46 in that same period and just quit ODI cricket having fallen desperately out of form.
Former Australia wicketkeeper Ian Healy believes it should be Finch’s last chance after he made 13 against New Zealand.
“I always said I’m giving ‘Finchy’ two games, but that’s the next one,” he said on SEN. “If we win against Sri Lanka like we should, and he doesn’t come good, Steve Smith could find himself captain.”
In theory, if Finch was dropped, Mitch Marsh could open the batting — as he did in a warm-up match against India last wee, making 35 off 18 balls — and Smith bat at No.3.
Nonetheless, Waugh believes that Australia’s current batting line-up should have the ability to cover the same anchor role Smith provides when the situation calls for it.
“Our batting line-up, there’s guys there that should be able to play a Steve Smith role,” Waugh said.
“Most of the guys have played a lot of Test match cricket so you can’t tell me that David Warner can’t bat through the innings, or Mitch Marsh change his game, or Stoinis or Maxwell.
“Most of those guys have played Test match cricket. So they should be able to read a game. I think it’s selling them a bit cheap if you say they can’t play the Steve Smith role. They certainly can but it’s more of a natural game for Smith I guess.
“We should be good enough to adapt to any situation with the bat. All the players in that squad.”
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As for how Green could fit into Australia’s XI, the situation is more complex.
Green provides good cover for several position but doesn’t have a rock solid case for any.
He was strong as an opener in India last month and, as such, could also be an option to replace Finch, while a middle-order role for Stoinis, Maxwell or David is not entirely out of the equation.
But Waugh proposed one left-field option which is worthy of consideration given how Saturday’s match played out.
“Do you go a bowler short? (Drop) one of your fast bowlers and use him as a third quick? Is that an option?” Waugh raised.
“It leaves you a little bit thin in the bowling but he’s a pretty good bowler. He doesn’t quite know his role yet with the ball in T20 cricket but he’s got potential to be that good, so that could be an option.”
Australia already bats deep to Matthew Wade at No.7, but if it wanted to extend that, or afford itself more flexibility around the order itself, then Green could be a chance to replace a fast bowler.
It would be a decision not without considerable controversy given it would mean the axing of either Pat Cummins, Mitchell Starc or Josh Hazlewood.
Picking between them would be like picking a favourite child for the selectors but desperate times would call for desperate measures after all.
Feels strange to write — and no doubt to read — but Cummins would be the most vulnerable in that situation based on T20 numbers in 2022.
He has both the worst bowling average and economy rate between the trio with 10 wickets at 32.40, while going for 8.75 runs an over from 10 matches.
It’s closely run with Starc, however, who has taken 10 wickets at 24.60, while going for 8.20 runs an over across eight matches.
Hazlewood is comfortably Australia’s best T20 bowler on form, and perhaps the world’s — at least if you are to believe the ICC world rankings.
The No.1-ranked bowler has 23 wickets at 17.00 this year with an economy rate of 7.51.
Those numbers are no surprise when you consider Hazlewood’s laser-like accuracy and arsenal of change-ups, particularly compared to Starc.
No player from the trio was close to their best against New Zealand, although Hazlewood did take 2-41 while Cummins and Starc went wicketless, taking 0-46 and 0-36 respectively.
Another option that involves dropping a bowler, but not including Green, would be the addition of Nathan Ellis.
Australia’s T20 pace attack is the same as its Test group, meaning Ellis would bring greater specialisation to the team — he’s only played seven first-class games, but 71 T20s.
He wouldn’t be daunted by the big stage either given he’s now delivered for Australia in three different countries, taking 15 wickets at just 8.53.
No Australian, apat from Ellis, has ever taken more than 10 wickets in their first five men’s T20s.
That haul includes 4-28 in Paksitan in April, 3-30 against India last month, and 3-20 against England three weeks ago.
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“He’s gone from strength to strength,” Stoinis said during the England series. “He’s going to play a lot of games for Australia I think.
“He’s a really smart T20 bowler, he’s got a few tricks.”
Nonetheless, Waugh said Australia would look “stupid” if any changes were made on Tuesday — but it will be a different story after game two.
“I think they’ll keep the same team because it would look stupid if they all of a sudden changed the team after one game,” Waugh said.
“I think they’ll definitely keep it for the next game and then maybe reassess after that.
“If things don’t go well they might make a change or two, but they’ve sort of showed their cards in the warm-up games about what team they want.”