27/05/2024

Marcus Stoinis, Aaron Finch and David Warner. (Image: Izhar Khan)

Not even 365 days removed from their triumph in Dubai, Australia’s reign as T20 champions of the world has come to an end.

A campaign that has stuttered, spluttered, and riddled with minor speedbumps right from the early season form lines was formally put to bed as England, shakily got over Sri Lanka at the SCG and rubber-stamped their qualification for the semi-finals.

But their demise is not without elements of its own fault. In fact, it can be summarised with one word. Mediocrity.

The first team to name their squad was the same as the triumphant side 12 months ago with the single change of a brand new toy for the end of batting innings. Not quite the “Dad’s army” heading out for a mission to defend the crown on home turf, but with all but two of the squad over 30 years old, this was this team’s “last dance” campaign.

Still, it was a squad, fresh off a triumph, capable in home conditions of replicating the heroics of the UAE and ultimately, not having the sixth-ranked side crowned best in the world regarded as a fluke.

A heavy defeat first up against New Zealand meant there was zero margin for error as the Super 12s phase wore on.

A washout against England meant that Group 1 was poised to come down to a battle of mathematical calculations, before not capitalising on being in a strong position against Ireland and then scraping over the line against Afghanistan took qualification right out of their own hands.

They weren’t without a dose of bad luck. A freak injury on the golf course days before the tournament opener ruled out backup wicketkeeper Josh Inglis, a couple of ill-timed COVID cases in the camp, and some injury headaches when it was crunch time, but they’re all minor hiccups considering the belief shown in the incumbent group that had most recently climbed the mountain was the right thinking to go again, so soon after the previous tournament.

So dad’s army couldn’t scale the mountain again, and it’s another T20 tournament where the title has not been defended, nor has the host country saluted. With the MCG final looking like it was the endpoint for several in the T20 format at least internationally, The side will have a different look about it come their next assignment in the shortest format of the game in August 2023.

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While T20 Cricket has shifted to become an old man’s game with older, experienced players finding a second wind in the shortest format or prolonging their careers on the T20 League global circuit, Australia must adapt and unearth its next generation of shortest format stars to contend come the 2024 tournament in the Caribbean and the USA. Not just select based on names and reputations.

Matthew Wade stated pre-tournament that this would likely be the crescendo of a whirlwind international career across a decade of yo-yo-ing in and out of three formats. Aaron Finch has already given away the 50-over format and all signs point towards him following suit in T20s. David Warner at 36 is well into the twilight of his colourful international career.

With the vast majority of the squad being over 30 years of age, coupled with the ridiculous lead-in schedule to the tournament in the month and a half leading up to it, no wonder the body language and energy of the squad seemed a little flat from the get-go.

The Aussies were overworked and drained from the first moment Mitchell Starc stood at the top of his mark at the SCG, A moment that both Finn Allen and Devon Conway seized to set Australia’s defence on the back foot early and never recover from.

Where was the ruthlessness of Australian sides gone by? Were they ultimately content with climbing the mountain once and ticking the box?

As much as they won the tournament last year in the UAE, Australia as a cricketing nation, on the men’s side of things at least, has never truly mastered or embraced T20 Cricket.

As the game continues to evolve and become the most prophetic and inclusive form of the game, Australia, heavyweights of the cricketing world are at risk of falling further behind the eight ball if they don’t see this opportunity to develop white ball and T20 specialist players.

It was the right move pigeonholing Tim David into this side at the expense of Steve Smith. It would have made extra sense to find room for white ball specialist Nathan Ellis with his changes of pace and death bowling skills and variations coming off a career-best year on the T20 Circuit and a fruitful start to his international career. Was it the right move to again put the faith into the big three quicks, one of whom has the title of Test and now One Day captain next to his name ahead of a loaded summer and 2023? Time will tell.

It moves on quickly. Up next are three ODIs against England, two Tests against the West Indies, three Tests against South Africa, a four-Test tour of India, six ODIs against India and Afghanistan, the World Test Championship final, an early winter five-Test Ashes series, an eight-match white-ball tour of South Africa and a 50-over World Cup in India – then the 2023/24 home summer kicks off.

With stacks of cricket on the horizon and players’ time and availability becoming a hot commodity as the landscape and power balance continues to shift, time and development of the next generation become even more of a priority across not just T20, but indeed all formats.

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