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Adam Zampa's return could be the silver lining Australia need in wet Melbourne

Regardless of conditions and match-ups, the Australian setup views him as part of their best T20 XI - and he has extensive MCG experience to draw on

Danyal Rasool
Danyal Rasool
Adam Zampa powers through the bowling crease, Australia vs West Indies, 2nd T20I, Brisbane, October 7, 2022

Adam Zampa missed out against Sri Lanka due to Covid-19  •  Cricket Australia/Getty Images

The skies over Melbourne have remained grey for about as long as anyone can remember now, but for Australia, there are suddenly silver linings to be had. New Zealand's thumping win over them in Sydney might have put them on the ropes early on, but Australia staggered back to their feet with an imperious dismantling of Sri Lanka. Ireland's stunning vanquishing of England even takes a sliver of pressure off Australia in a key match against their oldest rivals at the MCG on Friday. Crucially, it's a game that will almost certainly see legspinner Adam Zampa, who sat out the Sri Lanka contest with Covid-19, return to the fray.
"We haven't talked about the team composition yet but Zampa's feeling a lot better," captain Aaron Finch said. "He's been up and about a little bit. He was not crook but he was really flat the day before the [Sri Lanka] game and we wanted to give him as much time as possible to get up for the game but it was thought to be too much of an effort and would take too much out of him. Going into a World Cup game, you want to be at 100% and he felt as though he wasn't so, that was the reason he pulled out, but I expect that he will be available here."
On paper, that might not necessarily be the most valuable match-up for Australia. Each of England's top eight that played against Ireland have excellent strike rates against legspin since the start of last year; Harry Brook's 123.15 the only one below 138. Moeen Ali's obvious prowess against that particular type of bowling makes this an especially favourable match-up for England on paper through the late middle overs - a time when Australia tend to turn to Zampa for one to two overs. And against New Zealand, he found himself taken apart somewhat, conceding at least a four or six in each of his four overs as he went for 39.
In spite of that, there's never appeared any doubt in Australia's mind that their best XI at this T20 World Cup is one that has Zampa in it, no matter the opponent. It was why, at the Junction Oval, where Australia trained indoors as the rain continued to lash Melbourne, Zampa bowled with the intensity of someone who knew he'd be involved against England.
For all of England's prolific record against legspin, the Australian legspinner wasn't exactly outclassed in the two T20Is the sides played in the build-up, conceding 43 in five overs, two of which came in a game rain shortened to 12 overs each. It also included an absorbing battle with Moeen, one that saw the England batter score just seven off six balls, five of which came in the 17th over and included his wicket. In an innings that saw Moeen smash 44 off 27, Zampa had served more as a nail than a punching bag.
It's a tiny sample size, but Finch believed it was Zampa's refusal to shirk a challenge which makes him so highly regarded against this England side.
"Zampa's always up for the challenge and that's the great trait that he's got. I think he never ever backs away from a challenge. He takes it on."
Aaron Finch
"[Moeen and Zampa] have had some really good battles. Mo's obviously an unbelievable striker of spin. But Zampa's always up for the challenge and that's the great trait that he's got. I think he never ever backs away from a challenge. He takes it on. He wants to be there when they're in the heat of battle and that's something that that I admire so much about him. Because compared to other guys around the world, he doesn't spin the ball as much as them but what he what he's got is a huge heart and his cricket brain is brilliant. The amount of work that he does in the preparation for a game is outstanding."
How effective spin will be at the MCG also remains an intriguing unknown. In the game between India and Pakistan, spin disappeared so frequently it had to be hidden away till as late as possible. England, meanwhile, reaped such rich rewards with legspin they bowled three overs of Liam Livingstone against Ireland - two at the death - meaning Sam Curran, their best T20 death bowler on form, didn't even complete his full quota.
With Zampa having played more T20s at this venue than any other player from either side - he has played for the Melbourne Stars in the BBL since 2015-16 - his nous to hold his own in high-scoring tournaments should stand him in good stead. Just twice in 26 innings has he conceded more than 34 runs here, and of the maximum of 104 possible overs he could have bowled, he has sent down over 99. When Zampa plays at the MCG, Zampa bowls at the MCG - a lot.
It might not be the worst time to play an England side still smarting from the defeat to Ireland, and the criticism of the rain-blind approach they took may well create further doubts in England's minds on a day where the weather is expected to play a huge part again. Precisely the sort of doubts Adam Zampa will be itching to exploit.

Danyal Rasool is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo. @Danny61000