It’s a welcome relief this week as we head into the Australia-England cricket competition without the accompanying hype.
No one is shouting about the limited-overs series that is the Twenty20 Ashes, as marketing departments might once have tried. Instead, the three matches from Sunday to Friday will rightly be seen as a warm-up for the T20 World Cup, even if they are not part of the official warm-up schedule, with Australia playing one against India and England playing one against Pakistan, before the tournament proper .
It should be a relatively low-key series with the side looking to find a groove against quality opposition and answer a couple of final selection questions. This is combined with the feeling that even the tournament itself does not really generate a wave of anticipation. The previous T20 trophy was won less than 11 months ago. The 2024 Caribbean and US edition will be the third in less than three years. The schedule trivializes the concept of the World Cup. These are exhibition tournaments for funding, not meaningful ways to determine the team of the era. The 50-over format may be declining at bilateral level, but the ODI World Cup retains its stamp, but not coincidentally retains its quadrennial structure alongside its football equivalent and the Olympics.
So it is. People will continue to watch what they don’t save, and as the modern visionary Taylor Swift observed, gamers will continue to play. Due to their short careers and the vagaries of the format, most cricketers don’t mind a couple of extra tries to win the prize to add to their commentary resumes. Australia’s win in the 2021 pay-per-view edition from the Gulf in the middle of the night drew a muted reaction compared to the likely reaction to a win at home. England, meanwhile, have underperformed in the shortest format, leading a white-ball revolution since 2015. In 2016, they lost the final to West Indies, who played in a free arena, and were politely robbed by New Zealand in the 2021 semi-finals. The most destructive batting team in the world during that era has one World Cup over 50 men.
In many ways, that era is over, but the principles of aggression and some shots remain. Eoin Morgan is gone, Jason Roy is out of wounds, Jonny Bairstow unbelievably broke his leg playing golf, Jofra Archer was the bowler of 2019 and has topped the injury list ever since, Joe Root was deemed too slow, Liam Plunkett was retired, Mark Wood was always one mile an hour away from injury, Ben Stokes was called back despite for having never done much in the format.
New captain Jos Buttler, Moeen Ali, Chris Jordan, Chris Woakes and Adil Rashid have been a constant presence from the beginning of the Morgan era till now.
Alex Hales and David Willey have been sent off long enough that they have had time to step away from the squad and work their way back. New arrivals such as Harry Brook, Phil Salt, Liam Livingston and left-arm spinner Rhys Topley will have to work for England to maintain their previous form.
In the meantime, the Australian selectors have to make decisions about whether they will make any decisions. Their team could field the exact same XI that won the World Cup in Dubai last year. That won’t be the case in the series opener against England, with the main four bowlers and Glenn Maxwell with six batsmen ruled out of the long trip to Perth in favor of rest. The fringe players will get a gallop around the park and one last chance to impress, complemented by players from outside the squad. But the second and third matches in Canberra will give a better idea of the plan for the tournament.
Australia’s selection style has been conservative since Bradman, so it was interesting to watch a Test pace attack selected for the T20 World Cup and then win it. They will get another chance as long as Pat Cummins, Josh Hazlewood and Mitchell Starc remain fit along with spinner Adam Zampa. The same caution will see the selectors stick with Aaron Finch despite his traditional drought before a big tournament, and Marcus Stoinis as the current all-rounder despite recent claims that Cameron Green will be out of the squad .
David Warner at the top of the order continues to be the top-scoring batsman, while wicketkeeper Matthew Wade has been faultless at number seven. Mitchell Marsh will bat three times as he did in his trophy-winning performance last year and can bat at medium pace.
Maxwell will float around the middle order and bowl off-spin. The only real question is whether to bow to reputation and keep Steve Smith out or use the power of rookie Tim David. Smith is innovative but often doesn’t maintain a high enough run rate, while David is the type of player who can take 30 off 10 balls at the end of an innings to change a match.
Even Australian breeders can sometimes bet on a good thing.