Alex Malcolm is an Associate Editor at ESPNcricinfo
Australia captain Aaron Finch admits that long-held plans for the 2020 version of the T20 World Cup "have gone out the window" as they are set to name just four specialist bowlers for their tournament opener against South Africa on Saturday.
Australia had made the 2020 T20 World Cup, to be held in Australia, a priority back in 2018 with Finch, coach Justin Langer and Australia's selectors developing a consistent five-specialist bowler strategy over the course of 12 months which saw them win four consecutive series and reach world No. 1 for the first time in May of 2020.
But with the tournament delayed by a year and moved to the UAE, Australia have lost their way losing four consecutive series and head into the World Cup ranked 7th. Finch admitted the Covid-19 pandemic did affect their long-term planning.
"Plans have sort of gone out the window recently but that's part and parcel with what's happened worldwide we're fully understanding of that," Finch said. "To be able to continue to put on a great show in world cricket, to go ahead in a pandemic and we're very grateful for that"
Australia will not play with five specialist bowlers as they have done for most of the last two years. While Finch would not confirm which bowlers would be selected, he did state that allrounders Glenn Maxwell, Mitchell Marsh, and Marcus Stoinis would all play together.
"We'll go with seven specialist batters, four specialist bowlers, plus the allrounders," Finch said. "We've got a lot of confidence in the depth of our squad. We've got a lot of confidence in Maxwell, Stoinis, and Marsh to be able to bowl their four overs as well.
"We think that on these wickets and in these conditions that they can do a really good job and be an attacking option as much as anything."
That means if Australia picks their two specialist spinners in Ashton Agar and Adam Zampa, which appears highly likely, then only one of Josh Hazlewood, Pat Cummins, or Kane Richardson will play in support of Mitchell Starc.
Hazlewood did not play in either warm-up game after starring in Chennai Super Kings' IPL triumph. Richardson bowled well in Australia's warm-up win over New Zealand and is the only true death specialist while Cummins played only one warm-up game against India due to his late arrival in the UAE following the birth of his first child. It was his first game since the IPL was postponed in April and the Australia vice-captain admitted on Thursday that he could well be left out of the side during the tournament.
Australia's desire for stronger batting is a clear sign of the concern over their opening duo. Warner's lack of runs has been well documented, but Finch once again leapt to his defence.
"I'm backing Davey's ability," Finch said "I'm backing his judgment. I think if you look at his World Cup history, it's just bloody good. So, would he have liked more runs, absolutely. Everyone would like more runs all the time but he's one of the greatest players Australia's ever produced and I've got no doubts that come game one he will be up and firing ready to go."
The other elephant in the room is the form of Finch himself. He missed the recent tour of Bangladesh after requiring knee surgery and while his knee has fully recovered and is not a concern, his career T20 record in the UAE is far more worrying. In 22 career innings in the UAE in all T20s he averages 21.30 and strikes at 110. In five T20Is in the country he has made just 10 runs. He was dropped by Royal Challengers Bangalore during last year's IPL and though he does have an outstanding T20I overall record that commands respect, he averages 20 runs fewer per dismissal in Asia and his strike-rate drops to 124 compared to 159 outside of Asia.
The opening combination of Finch and Warner is vital to Australia's chances in the tournament, particularly given the importance of having a productive powerplay with the bat in the slower conditions.
"Even though it's different surfaces to what the IPL used, we saw the impact that had," Finch said. "The teams that won the powerplay, that went a long way to winning the game as the wickets deteriorated. I think the wickets first off in the tournament here will start out a little bit better, and probably be a little bit more consistent throughout the 40 overs. But as it gets a bit more traffic and the tournament gets a bit deeper, that might slow up and spin a little bit more. But, yeah, the powerplay is going to be crucial no doubt for both teams."