Momentum is loosely aligned to confidence, but it’s a broadly nonsensical concept in professional sport – after all, if you’ve allowed yourself to live by it, presumably you’ll be obliged to die by it too. Sure, winning is all very well, but sometimes knowing where you went wrong is every bit as important. Take Aaron Finch’s blunt post-match comments in Canberra, where he pinpointed Australia’s “sloppy” fielding for the eight-run defeat that left them 2-0 down going into what is now Friday’s dead-rubber against England.
So with just over a week to go until the start of their respective T20 World Cup campaigns, here we are – with England’s rebooted white-ball team now boasting back-to-back away series wins after a blank home summer, and Australia seemingly in a scramble for their own readiness after a pair of untimely setbacks.
And yet, as the Aussies know all too well from their own exploits in the UAE 12 months ago, history is bunk, especially in the T20 format. On that occasion they went into the World Cup with a troubling litany of setbacks stretching back five series and 18 months, through losses to England, India, New Zealand, West Indies and Bangladesh – and even then they got panned by eight wickets, and with 50 balls to spare, by a Jos Buttler masterclass in the group stages in Dubai. What happened thereafter, however, rather scotched any notion of prep.
Certainly the team that Australia put out for the Canberra defeat was not far from the side that they would wish to take into their opening fixture against New Zealand on October 22. Ideally they’d like Glenn Maxwell to find a semblance of form, and for their big-three seamers – Mitchell Starc, Pat Cummins and Josh Hazlewood – to prove a touch more incisive than their collective analyses of 2 for 110 in 12 overs, but there’s not a lot that they would seek to improve personnel-wise, even after this latest loss.
But then, up he popped with an economical display in a rare new-ball role, followed by a first-ball breakthrough at the start of his second over, and by the time he’d pulled off the evening’s most startling feat of athleticism – a stunning one-handed boundary-save at long-off – his thirst for the action was once again self-evident. If finding a place for a man like Stokes is your major concern … well, it’s the proverbial “good problem to have”, isn’t it?
Australia LLWWL(last five completed T20Is, most recent first)
In the spotlight
The XI played on Wednesday was widely considered Australia’s starting side for the World Cup. They may give them another run, but also there’s a chance they will rotate again. Although he passed his concussion test, David Warner may be given the night off after his heavy landing near the boundary on Wednesday. Kane Richardson could be worth another outing before the real thing starts – his cutters may suit a somewhat sticky Canberra surface – Josh Inglis has not played since the India tour and there remains some uncertainty over the status of Ashton Agar.
Australia (probable) 1 David Warner, 2 Aaron Finch (capt), 3 Mitchell Marsh, 4 Glenn Maxwell, 5 Marcus Stoinis, 6 Tim David, 7 Matthew Wade (wk), 8 Pat Cummins, 9 Mitchell Starc, 10 Adam Zampa, 11 Josh Hazlewood/Kane Richardson
Chris Jordan lost his central contract earlier this week, and – whisper it – maybe he’s close to losing his banker status as England’s go-to death bowler. Curran’s death overs in recent weeks have been exceptional, as have Reece Topley’s, while Chris Woakes – who is likely to get another warm-up outing here – offers a wise head at the crunch too. With Mark Wood also itching for another trot before the main event, it will be instructive to see if Jordan gets another chance to find his form on Friday, as he battles back from his long-term hand injury. On the batting front, Liam Livingstone must be nearing full fitness after his ankle injury, and while England originally earmarked this week’s Pakistan match as his comeback game, there may be a temptation to test-drive him sooner, especially with Stokes not yet firing, and with the series already in the bag.
England (probable) 1 Jos Buttler (capt & wk), 2 Alex Hales, 3 Dawid Malan, 4 Ben Stokes, 5 Harry Brook, 6 Moeen Ali, 7 Sam Curran, 8 Chris Woakes, 9 Chris Jordan, 10 David Willey, 11 Adil Rashid.
Pitch and conditions
The surface wasn’t a road for the opening game with free-flowing strokeplay not easy from the outset. It made the quality of Malan’s innings stand out and also David’s striking. The weather forecast isn’t promising with heavy rain set to sweep through the capital, although there remains some hope that it will clear through in time for the game. There shouldn’t be problems with drainage.
Stats and trivia
“We are probably ready to go, I think. Maybe just in a holding pattern now for another two games. Sort of feels that way in the camp. We know our game pretty well in Australia.”
Josh Hazlewood on the long build-up to the World Cup
“When the big games come, he’ll score runs and that’s what you want from your gun players. Ben offers so much even if he’s not scoring runs: he opened the bowling [in the second T20I] and bowled really well and he was brilliant in the field.”
Moeen Ali has no worries about Stokes’ form