Is Australia serious about Twenty20 cricket?
Aussie skipper Steve Smith and pacer Josh Hazlewood express dissimilar views; Smith's excuse is packed schedules while key bowler wants more T20 games
Kolkata: Australia are set to warm up for their World T20 campaign with a 'friendly' against the West Indies on Sunday, but not many are convinced if they have actually warmed to cricket's shortest format. And the apparent low priority shows in more ways than one.
Oz captain Steve Smith at a hotel in Kolkata on Saturday. Pic/PTI
The most dominating team in world cricket, currently ranked No 1 in both Tests and One-Day Internationals, Team Australia languish at a lowly fifth rung in T20 Internationals — that too after a climb from eighth place following the series win in South Africa this month. The reigning champions and five-time winners of the World Cup in the 50 overs-a-side format are yet to strike gold in World T20.
"I wouldn't say that," skipper Steve Smith responded when asked if Australia weren't as serious about Twenty20 format as they should be. "We have pretty packed schedules but we do play a lot of T20 cricket. We know how to play this format and if we play to our ability, we'll be a tough side to beat in this tournament." Smith's defense on the question of commitment to the format ran counter to what Josh Hazlewood feels about Australian preparations for World T20.
"I think we could definitely play more T20 matches leading up to big tournaments like these if we really want to win them. That's something that has to be looked into," said the 25-year-old pacer from New South Wales. "We haven't played as much T20 as the other teams, and those three games in South Africa were very important." He could well have added that a T20 International or two during their tour to New Zealand last month would have helped too.
Hazlewood: Played T20 after two-and-half years
Hazlewood, a key bowler in the Australian Test and ODI team, has come here a trifle underdone in the shortest format. "Before the other night I hadn't played any T20 for two-and-half years," he said, hoping to "learn a few things from guys like (fellow pacer John) Hastings and add to my game".
Hazlewood had pulled out of the IPL last year to preserve himself for the Ashes series. He missed the Big Bash, Australia's answer to the IPL, earlier this year as Cricket Australia chose to give him rest before the tour across the Tasman Sea.
If the Aussies manage to lift a T20 World Cup on their sixth try, it will probably come riding on those that chose to play IPL in the hot and humid Indian summers over the years. Many of them are key cogs in their teams. Ironically, the top player on ICC's T20 rankings is an Aussie. Aaron Finch sits atop the heap as a beacon for their collective hope.