Within a Lyon’s roar of World T20 glory: Australia need unexpected brilliance

On March 18 Australia start their final push to the top of the mountain when they take on New Zealand in the first round of the World T20.

Steve Smith’s men are ranked sixth in the shortest format in contrast to the Test and one-day arenas where they are standing like Hillary at the summit.

They were near perfect 12 months ago in the World Cup when the now-retired Mitchell Johnson, the surgically recuperating Mitchell Stark, fast bowling Sherpa Josh Hazlewood and the 20-over superannuant Shane Watson did the business comprehensively with the ball.

The ascent to Test cricket supremacy has me marginally baffled and I have pored over the ICC methodology several times … ours is not to reason why. Steve Smith quite rightly says there is much room for improvement from his morphing squad and they will only get better at the longer forms once the squad settles.

This will not be a World Cup dominated by the fast bowling Australia used so devastatingly in the 50-over format. Glenn Maxwell, Adam Zampa and Ashton Agar, the selection afterthought, should play every game. We will see spinners opening the bowling for a number of teams; India with Suresh Raina, Ravindra Jadeja, Ravi Ashwin, Harbhajan Singh and slow left-armer Pawan Negi have come well prepared.

Taking the speed off the ball and making batsmen swing and trust the surface – a judgment much harder to make on slow, spinning pitches – will be the key to restricting scores. Scoring runs then will require as much touch as it does swish. Expect the reverse sweep to be the most prolific scoring shot.

Australia will conduct their campaign with their best spinner turning out in NSW blue trying to win the Sheffield Shield instead of wattle and green. It is difficult to reconcile Nathan Lyon’s omission in a tournament that has “SPIN” tattooed to its forehead.

Smith may well become a frontline bowler and even Aaron Finch’s rarely seen left-arm slows could get a gig. Creativity and flexibility are Smith’s captaincy hallmarks and he will need to be at his best to organise the resources the selectors have given him.

Top of the order: Usman Khawaja should open the batting in India. Photo: Getty Images

Usman Khawaja must open the batting with the right-handed Finch and either David Warner or Smith comes in when a like-handed batsman is dismissed. Keeping a right/left combination at the crease might make a significant difference if the opposition keep wheeling up spin.

That sort of order leaves Watson, a veteran of the IPL, to float through the order unless Smith wants him to open and relegates Finch – testy questions which selectors do appear to have countenanced when putting together this squad.

With so many Australians playing professional T20 around the planet it is a small mystery why the team ranks well down the ladder. Perhaps it is because 20-over results can be swung by the performance of individuals, and to an extent by fortune good and bad.

Wielding the willow fiercely at every delivery on pitches of common blandness on outfields with shrinking dimensions relegates cricket to a baseball facsimile. The blades are evolving in weight and form into flat-fronted baseball bats. This brings strength rather than finesse into a game where skill was once king.

When the cricket ball deviates little through the air and if the pitches don’t spin then bowlers are relegated to medium-paced pitchers. The key to winning T20 matches is for players to stick to the roles that best suit their own skill set and complement the team.

Chris Gayle is the biggest hitter in the game but has precious few team pennants to show for that brutishness.

Australia begin the campaign against New Zealand in northern India, so far north in fact that the Himalayas dominate the horizon at the Himachal Pradesh Stadium. If you stand on your tip toes in the eastern stand you can see the Dalai Lama’s house.

Usually this pitch doesn’t take much spin but it is late in the Indian season and the slow men will find some assistance before they return to the Punjab for games against Pakistan and India in Mohali. The Mohali pitch is known for bounce and pace after the pitch was relaid so that it would mirror Australian conditions. I’m not sure if India will be playing a “home” game on a bouncy pitch – chalk this one down to another spin-dominated match.

They should win the March 21 game in Bangalore against a qualifier even if it’s played on the footpath. Two of the five teams in the group go through to the semi-final in either Delhi (a notoriously dusty track) or Wankhede in Mumbai (another red-soiled dust bowl ), which means that the early information available to the selectors about spin bowling being essential to success in this tournament is certainly true. The slow bowlers should be sending down at least 12 of the 20 overs and the seam bowlers will be using plenty of cutters, spinners and back of the handers.

On current form Australia are appropriately ranked and it will need some outstanding and unexpected performances if they are to even make the semi-finals. Twenty-over cricket is the most fickle of formats and all things are possible, but it would have been nice for the selectors to get a grip on their “horses for courses” philosophy and put their best slow bowler on the plane.

It would make the climb to world domination so much easier.

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