After thorny run-in, Australia hope for smooth start to title defence

In many ways, Australia’s preparation for their T20 title defense felt like a contradiction. In all likelihood, the XI taking the field at the SCG on Saturday (weather permitting) will be the one likely to appear for quite some time, with Tim David replacing Steven Smith at the final T20 World Cup.
So while that conveys a sense of stability, there’s a lot more to it that suggests a build that’s been far from ideal. It included managing injuries from key all-rounders Mitchell Marsh and Marcus Stoinis, plus backup bowlers Ashton Agar and Kane Richardson; a significant number of trips, including a week-long trip to India; the debate over David Warner’s captaincy ban, which national selector George Bailey made no secret of, became a frustratingly protracted affair, and the appointment of Pat Cummins as ODI captain, along with the debate surrounding one of Australia’s main sponsors.
Most recently, an old golf club broke in Josh Inglis’ hand on the second hole on Sydney’s La Perouse course, severely cutting the wicketkeeper and banning him from the tournament. In itself, it’s not the most damaging injury the squad could have suffered on the eve of the tournament – Inglis would not have been in the starting line-up – but it sparked an unwelcome conversation about who should be the replacement and the implications of it (Warner as wicketkeeper, perhaps?). Inglis was also a very versatile batting understudy.
On the pitch, Australia would have beaten England 3-0 had it not been for rain in Canberra, after which Aaron Finch made comments about fatigue in the squad after the long build-up. A number of players have felt that they have had matches that they did not need, but on the other hand there were still one or two questions of form even though Finch played against India in time at the Gabba.
Glenn Maxwell remains the one who has yet to make a significant contribution with the bat this season – although he also appeared to start against India – but he is supported to come out on top when it really matters.
“I think it looks very different on the inside than it does on the outside,” head coach Andrew McDonald said of the build-up. “We have a task ahead of us and that is to get the players ready for the first game.

“Probably the thing that has consumed us the most is the return of injured players and you’ve seen in the run-up that we didn’t have to bring certain players to certain games because of the risk of injury, so that was our big discussion about the 11 players.” who will play that first game to the starting line. The medical team has done a fantastic job. So we’ve had our own, probably internal, battles as opposed to what happened on the outside.”

The injury concerns of Marsh (ankle) and Stoinis (side) were most critical to Australia’s build-up, as their overs are essential to level the squad as there were seven batters and four bowlers. McDonald admitted losing one or both all-rounders was “real” in recent weeks, leading to their extensive use of Cameron Green at the top of the order following its success in India, which in turn led to the unusual sight of Finch hitting in the middle. Ultimately, Green made his way to the roster, but as a replacement for Inglis.

Marsh may still not be entitled to bowl in the opening game against New Zealand and there are lingering concerns that Stoinis will be able to come back on a tight schedule, especially when travel is included – Australia, as host, plays each group match at a different location. In the balance for their part, Maxwell becomes as important to his bowling as his batting.

But for all that, if Australia can put their expected XI on the park, it’s looking very strong. David has brought more power and finishing ability to the mid-range, Warner has played some sparkling innings leading up to the tournament, Marsh still looks at home at number 3, Matthew Wade has had a prolific 12 months as a finisher and it’s hard to pick holes in the four frontline bowlers with Adam Zampa and Josh Hazlewood particularly dominant in the format.

The big selection question was to sideline Smith from the first-choice XI, although McDonald reiterated that there could be a role for him during the tournament. Although Smith has shed the ‘Mr Fix-It’ tag, it’s still questionable how Australia will react if they run into trouble early against the new ball, but McDonald was confident others could play that role.

“The term ‘hitters’, those players have a few extra layers than just being able to hit the ball over the ropes,” he said. “They do have some power, but they also have some craft.”

None of this has even made any mention of the opposition itself on Saturday, the well-trained New Zealand side who were the other finalists last year and have a stellar track record in global events. However, there is some thought that they are a side that may have passed its peak while not beating Australia in any format. in their country since 2011. The hosts are probably not too disappointed to start against them.

After a long build-up that has not all gone smoothly, it’s about what happens at the SCG. The prospect of rain and a shortened game poses even more danger. No men’s team has yet to defend the T20 World Cup and there is little room for error.