If you had the chance to get a glimpse of Marcus Stoinis’ mad knock at the Melbourne Cricket Ground against the Sixers the other day, consider yourself lucky. It was pure T20 genius and arguably, the greatest T20 knock played on Australian soil.
It didn’t, unlike other big T20 scores, have a passage of play where Stoinis went bonkers - hell, he didn’t even hit back-to-back sixes in the match - nor was there a loophole in the dimensions of the ground that he could exploit. It was just pure, clean, sustained hitting of the cricket ball for 20 overs that made you drop your jaw and just sit and admire the action. It’s not the score 147* that makes it stand out either - there have been 12 scores higher than it in T20 history.
But the fact that it came at the mighty M-freaking-CG, the biggest cricket ground in the world, makes it absurd. To put things into perspective, of the top 75 individual scores in T20 history, only two have been registered in Australia; All of the top 15 individual scores in T20 cricket (aside Stoinis’ 147*) have come in either the sub-continent, England or Zimbabwe. In a nutshell, it was a very, very special knock.
But unfortunately, much like the rest of us, all Australia can do is just applaud, admire and commend Stoinis’ efforts, for it is not salutary for them in any way - at least in the immediate future. In retrospect, it, in fact, could just be the worst thing to have happened to them. It means that a country that was already short on finishers and power-hitters has lost yet another prodigal son to the one position where they’re spoilt with options - the opening slot.
With David Warner and Aaron Finch - barring injuries - all but locks for the opening slot in the T20 format and with both D’Arcy Short and Chris Lynn waiting in the wings, it is fair to say that Stoinis is a long, long way away from even threatening to break into the team as an opener. And now, with Steve Smith reintegrated back into the T20 setup, Stoinis’ strike rate and approach - which is considerably lower and more conservative as compared to all his compatriots - works against his favour as well. But we’ll let that go for now; it’s not about Stoinis, it’s all about Australia.
It’s about how they, as of this moment, are in the midst of a scarcity of power-hitters and finishers, and why the last thing they needed was an able-hitter shifting base. The problem, however, has been masked due to the sheer, unblemished, sustained excellence of one man - Glenn Maxwell. Truth be spoken, barring Maxwell, Australia, in T20Is, are an imbalanced, one-dimensional side with a loaded top order where numbers 5, 6 and 7 feast on the brilliance of the men above them. They are unproven and more specifically, untested.
Since the start of 2015, of all the active cricketers who have batted No.5 or below, Maxwell apart, only three batsmen have scored 100 runs or more, with all three of them boasting a strike rate under 130.
There will always be an argument that this can be attributed to the flourishing, immaculate top-order farming the strike and starving the lower middle-order batsmen from exposure. Take this home season for example, where Australia won each of their 5 matches: The top-order (numbers 1-4) faced a staggering 94.1% of the deliveries as compared to the middle and lower-order (numbers 5,6 and 7) who faced just 30 of 509 balls that the team batted.
But make no mistake, even when the top-order has failed, the rest of the pack has failed to be of any help to the team, big time. During the same aforementioned timeframe (since Jan 2015), Australia, apart from the 2019 home summer, have had a forgettable T20I record, boasting a 58% win percentage, winning 25 and losing 18 matches. And in those 18 losses, when the top order - at least by their own high standards - have failed, averaging just under 23, the middle-order has been futile and abortive - both whilst batting first and chasing.
The inadequacy of level-headed, experienced big-hitters and finishers who are competent enough to put bowlers to the sword is a growing concern for the team. However, what’s perhaps more concerning - if not distressing - is the criminal mishandling of the utilities already available at disposal in the Big Bash League, and it is not restricted to just Stoinis.
Alex Carey, who will all but be Australia’s designated ‘finisher’ in the forthcoming WT20, was deployed as a No.3 batsman by his franchise Adelaide Strikers, while Mitchell Marsh has been spending all his time batting at No.4 for the Scorchers. Marsh, to his credit, has been doing a fine job finishing off games by batting deep, but that does not change the fact: there is serious short-sightedness which could, potentially, hurt the team big time in the forthcoming months.
Ashton Turner, during the summer - in the absence of Maxwell - was handed the responsibility of upping the ante, but he, ironically, ended up facing just 30 balls across the 6 matches he played. It is also to be noted that the Western Australian - putting his Mohali blitz aside - is still an unproven commodity at the international level, having batted just 10 times in total. His form in the ongoing Big Bash League - 83 runs in 5 innings at an average of 16.60 - has also been underwhelming, to say the least. Handing an inexperienced, unproven, out-of-form youngster the sole responsibility of finishing the game and banking on him whilst not grooming sufficient back-ups raises serious questions of the management.
Stoinis, for all his failures with the bat in the World Cup, for all his recent shortcomings batting down the order, due to his sheer striking ability, is an invaluable asset to the team down the order. With Australia in dire need of a big-hitter and with the country already overloaded with openers, it would have made all the more sense to allow “Stoinis the finisher” to fail, rather than “Stoinis the opener” to succeed.
At the end of the day, it all boils down to the relationship between the BBL Teams and Cricket Australia, and whether the franchises are prepared to take decisions in the best interest of the country. At this point in time, the answer is a big no and it is, without a shadow of a doubt, hurting Australian cricket. Just like us the fans, the Aussie selectors, too, can sit back and catch a glimpse of the Stoinis masterclass currently ongoing in the BBL, for they’re not going to see any of it in the World T20 in 9 months time.
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