The recently concluded T20 series between the top 2 ranked countries in the world – Australia and England, dished out the exciting fare that was promised.
For England it was a continuation of their cricket season that resumed in July, but for Australia it was their first international series in almost 6 months, after the Covid pandemic had put a stop to international cricket around the world.
England pulled back from a precarious position in the 1st T20, after Warner & Finch put together a 98-run opening partnership in the run chase, to register an unlikely win and go 1-0 up in the series. The 162 that England defended was the second Lowest total defended by them at home in T20Is, after the 153 that they had defended versus India in 2009 at Lords.
The match raised questions about the way Finch deployed his two frontline spinners. He used left arm spinner Ashton Agar in the 2nd over, during the power-play, and Agar was taken for 16 runs by Jos Butler & Bairstow. Another decision that was surprising was using young leg spinner Adam Zampa in the 18th over against the well-set left handed batsman Dawid Malan. Zampa conceded 22 runs in that over as England got the momentum going in the innings to post a par score at the venue.
The pace of Archer and Wood rattled Australia in the 2nd T20, as Finch erred in choosing to bat first on a wicket that initially offered movement for the fast bowlers. The 157 that Australia posted was never going to be a challenge for England with Jos Butler back in his favorite opening slot for the T20 series, as he smashed a match winning 77 not out, while being ably assisted by the in-form Dawid Malan who now has the incredible statistic of having crossed the 50 run mark in half of his 16 T20I innings so far (1 hundred + 7 fifties).
With England taking an unassailable 2-0 lead in the 3-match series, despite the absence of Ben Stokes and Jason Roy, it meant that Australia were looking at the ignominy of a possible 3-0 whitewash going into the last match.
But the hosts were rocked by an injury to captain Eoin Morgan who dislocated a finger in his right hand, while Jos Butler was allowed to leave the bio-secure bubble of the squad to be with his family. Missing these two key players in the line-up, it fell on Moeen Ali’s shoulders to captain England for the 1st time in a T20 international as they took on Australia, who had to win the 3rd match to reclaim the ICC T20 ranking after losing the first two matches.
Finch made the right moves as the Australians made 3 changes in their team – bringing in Mathew Wade, Mitchell Marsh and Josh Hazelwood in an attempt to shore up both the bowling and the batting lineup. They visitors bowled a tight line to restrict England to 145. Despite a few hiccups in the chase, where they faltered against Adil Rashid’s leg spin, Mitchell Marsh scored an unbeaten 39 and ensured that the visitors got their 1st win of this England tour and finish the series at the top of the ICC T20 rankings.
A few questions remain though, for the Australian think tank. The biggest one is whether they have the best possible combination in place. Should it be Wade or Carey behind the stumps, at which number should Steve Smith bat to get the best out of him, will the mystery of Maxwell’s slump in form get resolved in time and how do they reduce the over-reliance on Aaron Finch to get them off to a big start every time?
The fragile nature of the Aussie middle order versus spinners is another matter of concern; especially when the next World Cup will be in spin friendly conditions of the Indian sub-continent.
But for now, the focus will shift to the 3 match ODI series between these two traditional rivals, which starts from 11th September at Manchester.
(The Author is a Sports Broadcaster & Cricket Commentator who has worked on assignments for leading sports networks in India & Abroad and was on the Hindi commentary panel for the ENG v AUS T20 series)