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Tuesday, November 30, 2021

T20 World Cup 2021: How Australia learnt to love T20, and how they can get better at it

Aussies have come a long way since their initial snobbish attitude to the format, but need some more changes to be a consistent force in the format.

Written by Sriram Veera |
Updated: November 6, 2021 7:56:36 am
In this file photo, Australia's David Warner celebrates his fifty runs with Steve Smith against Sri Lanka. (AP)

Australia have shed their negativity over T20 that was prevalent a decade back, but need to ensure big players take part in the Big Bash League if the feeder system is to improve. And age is a badge of honour, not a disability in the format, says Simon Helmot, a T20 coach in Australia. John Buchanan, a former coach of the national side, points out the difference between Australia and England

The simple answer is that I do not see any team cracking the ‘code’ yet. In terms of countries who play T20, England are leaders because they have a designated T20 or short-game captain in (Eoin) Morgan and play many specialist short-form players.

So the flip side is that teams like Australia, who are not winning consistently, are not following the lead given by England.

“To this day we still have a hangover, a poor negative thinking about T20 in Australia.” That was Matthew Hayden talking last year about the state of the game in his country. He particularly dates the start of the troubles to 2007 and the discordant views in the team. In Hayden’s telling, on one side was Ricky Ponting, averse to T20, and on the other, Hayden himself, aghast that Australian cricket wasn’t seeing the future staring down at them.

“One of the great challenges was the Hayden-Ponting show really. Punter was really traditional, he loved Tests and odd and saw no space for T20 cricket. And I was adamant to the core to the point that I left the Cricket Australia board because they were deliberating for so long about Brisbane Heat and the whole franchise set- up. The time they were taking to get involved in the Big Bash was frustrating,” Hayden says in Shane Watson’s podcast. “And to this day, we still have a hangover, a poor negative thinking about T20 in Australia. Individuals who thought different, like you (Watson) and Warner, have done well.”

Simon Helmot, who has coached BBL and IPL teams and is now involved in the Caribbean Premier League, says that Australia has shed that negativity around T20. “Perhaps, that was then. Now we have a flourishing Big Bash and Australian cricketers take T20 very seriously. It’s about getting the combination and strategy right.”

Helmot raises other salient points about Big Bash that could be playing a part in Australia’s diminishing returns at the T20 international stage.

“Top Australian players don’t play in the BBL. David Warner has played just one BBL where he hit a hundred. But he has never played any BBL since then. Cricket Australia needs to think about how to have a schedule that allows big players to take part. It’s certainly not easy but if we are serious about improving the quality of the competition and beefing up the feeder system for the national side, we need to get the bigger players involved.”

Australia’s David Warner plays a shot during the T20 World Cup. (AP Photo)

Helmot recalls a conversation he had with coach Greg Sheppard, who guided Sydney Sixers to the title in 2020. “He talked about having Steven Smith, Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood and Nathan Lyon in his team. He said the knowledge depth was amazing and how it influenced and encouraged the younger domestic players to raise their games. That’s how it works. If we have the big players, the quality of the competition improves. It’s the one thing we have to somehow manage to get right.”

Right now, the focus of BBL is on the fans and is played during the school holidays. “To get the families to the ground and the popularity has certainly increased. But that timeline also coincides with a Test series and the big players aren’t available. It’s a disadvantage for Australia,” Helmot says.

NO OVERHAUL NEEDED

Former national coach John Buchanan points at the essential difference between England and Australia.

“The simple answer is that I do not see any team cracking the ‘code’ yet. In terms of countries who play little T20, England are leaders because they have a designated T20 or short-game captain in (Eoin) Morgan and play many specialist short-form players. So the flip side is that teams like Australia, who are not winning consistently, are not following the lead given by England,” Buchanan told this newspaper.

There has been talk in the Australian circuit about whether some players are aging and they should revamp the team with young blood. Helmot doesn’t concur.

“There are two profiles of players who succeed in T20, the past decade has taught us. 1) The experienced players who can cope with pressure and problem-solve; and 2) the spin bowlers. Incidentally, at the start of T20, these two sets of players were thought to be the weakest link in a team. The entire thinking has been turned upside down now.”

Are Aaron Finch, Warner, Smith and Co aging and need to be replaced? “Don’t worry about fast hands. Fast minds is what wins you T20 games. Age isn’t the issue, who is the best player regardless of age should play T20. Look at Chennai Super Kings in the Indian Premier League – MS Dhoni, Faf du Plessis or Dwayne Bravo. Look elsewhere too: Michael Hussey, Shane Watson, Keiron Pollard, Lasith Malinga or Dan Christian. Look how good Rohit Sharma has got after he has grown older.”

The problem with Australia in the here and now isn’t then about age but team combination. “I think they erred by going with Ashton Agar in the (ICC T20 World Cup) game against England. They had understandable reasons for it: the match-ups with a left-arm spinner against some of their batsmen. But I would prefer the team we went with in the first match.

How to bat on these pitches

“Smith is still one of the best, especially as we haven’t seen 180 or such tall scores in this World Cup. It has come down to skill-sets of batsmen to cope with pitches where the ball isn’t misbehaving, but not behaving as one would have anticipated. A short-of-length ball was whacked through the line until now and batsmen have got used to it. Not in this tournament. They have to adjust accordingly and not have their usual bat-swings they have grown accustomed to in T20. Not just Australia, but all teams. In my mind, a skillful experienced batsman is better equipped to do it. As I said, don’t worry about fast hands and powerful arms; this needs to be tackled differently.”

Australia team, T20 World Cup Australian players walk from the field following their eight wicket loss to India in their Cricket Twenty20 World Cup warm-up match in Dubai. (AP Photo)

That perhaps explains why the scores have been low in the first half of the tournament and why the games in general have been of low quality. Batsmen are yet to adapt to the demands of the pitches.

The Australian team, Helmot reckons, has the match winners. “Josh Hazlewood was the best seamer in the IPL. Adam Zampa is a crafty bowler, never mind that one over against England. Mitch Starc showed what he can do with yorkers. It will come down to the starts that Warner and Finch can give. If they do well, Australia can win this tournament. If they don’t, then the problems flows through to the middle order, where Glen Maxwell is the kingpin. But he needs to come in the middle overs. We have to get in Mitchell Marsh in for Agar and then trust that the openers will come good. Age is never an issue in T20 where there are 120 different match-ups in the 20 overs. A player who has the experience and the skill will do a lot better. T20 cricket has taught us that for sure.”

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