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News Analysis

Aussies at the IPL: Head's hot streak, Fraser-McGurk fires again, Maxwell drops himself

Australia will want David Warner to get back to playing attacking cricket ahead of the T20 World Cup, for which Spencer Johnson is also making a case

Alex Malcolm
Alex Malcolm
The IPL has reached the halfway point, and some of Australia's best T20 players made headlines for a variety of reasons in the first half of the tournament. Here is how they fared over the last week.

Head's hot streak bodes well for World Cup

Travis Head has IPL bowlers shaking in their boots right now. In the past week, he has smashed a 39-ball century against Royal Challengers Bengaluru, and then 89 off 32 balls against Delhi Capitals to help Sunrisers Hyderabad to two wins while shattering scoring records and threatening to break the 300-total barrier.
Head feels empowered by Australia and Sunrisers captain Pat Cummins, and Sunrisers coach and Australia assistant coach Daniel Vettori to go out and tee off without fear. He spoke glowingly of Cummins' leadership in terms of allowing him to stop worrying and play his way. Earlier, Head's name was only pencilled in to open in the T20 World Cup, and there was little doubt that wouldn't happen. But his name is in permanent ink now, and he looms as a key match-winner for Australia - just like he was at the ODI World Cup last year.

Fraser-McGurk fires to get selectors thinking

Jake Fraser-McGurk made an impressive IPL debut ten days ago to give Indian audiences a glimpse of what he had already shown domestically down under, and in his initial ODI appearances. However, even with that innings, he remained a fair way down Australia's pecking order in terms of Australia's World Cup 15.
But what he has done in the last week will make Australia's selectors consider whether he could be of value. He smashed 20 from ten balls against Gujarat Titans, and then a 15-ball half-century - including seven sixes - against Sunrisers Hyderabad to finish with 65 off 18.
What would have made the selectors sit up and take notice was Fraser-McGurk's treatment of the in-form Cummins, thumping him for a six and a four. But more impressively, he launched six of his seven sixes off the spinners Washington Sundar and Mayank Markande. Admittedly, it was on a pristine batting strip. But he was able to take down Markande outside the powerplay three times with five men out before he holed out trying for a fourth as Capitals briefly gave themselves a chance to chase down even 267.
Australia's top three for the World Cup is set, with Head to open with David Warner, and Mitchell Marsh to bat at No. 3. But the one glaring area of weakness in that top three, outside of Warner, is spin hitting. Fraser-McGurk has not played a T20I yet, and it would be unlikely that he would make Australia's squad for the World Cup, as using a slot on a spare specialist top-three batter with no international experience would be a risk, given the selectors will prefer versatility on the bench. But he's still making a case.

Warner wobbles; Maxwell's unusual move

While Head and Fraser-McGurk are making statements, two of Australia's best T20 batters in Warner and Glenn Maxwell aren't in peak form. But any suggestion that Warner's World Cup place is under threat due to a slightly lean IPL would be ill-conceived. He was controversially dropped by Sunrisers in the lead-up to the 2021 T20 World Cup and had his position questioned, only to come out and be named as the Player of the Series as Australia won the title.
Warner's form at present isn't alarming, and he is still recovering from a finger injury that caused him to miss the match against Titans despite playing in Capitals' most recent match against Sunrisers. But there's no doubt Australia's hierarchy would like him to recommit to the aggressive, fearless method he had in the ODI World Cup last year. Warner has not played an innings in this year's IPL where he has struck at more than 149, in a tournament where the average scoring rate is above 150. In his last three innings, he has scored just 19 runs off 20 balls, including 12 dots, and been dismissed three times.
Meanwhile, Head is striking at 216 for the tournament and Fraser-McGurk is going at 222. Maximising the powerplay at the T20 World Cup is going to be crucial. Warner knows how to switch it on for the big occasion, and Australia would like him to get back to that brand at the back-end of the IPL.
There also aren't many concerns in Australia over Maxwell's decision to drop himself from the RCB side last week due to a horror run of form. He did clarify that he wasn't seeking an extended break due to fatigue, given he has had two extended three-week breaks from cricket already this calendar year.
Maxwell wasn't selected again on Sunday night against Kolkata Knight Riders when Cameron Green was recalled to bat at No.5. With RCB's tournament all but over, it will be intriguing to see if Maxwell can find his way back into the XI or whether they choose to use the remaining matches to develop some younger talent. But both Maxwell and Australia would almost certainly feel more comfortable ahead of the World Cup if he got some more game time and found a little bit of confidence with the bat.

Starc's roller-coaster IPL continues; Johnson shows promise

It appeared that Mitchell Starc had turned a corner at the IPL with three solid outings following his difficult start. But his last two games in the past week have been poor. He conceded 50 from four overs against Rajasthan Royals, as Jos Buttler peeled off an unbeaten century to run down 224. Starc then conceded 55 in three overs on Sunday night against RCB - including 19 off the final over - but somehow survived as he had 20 runs to play with.
He spoke last week of not being tactically up to speed with T20 bowling after not playing the format for 16 months prior to the IPL. Execution is now the issue for Starc as he continues to bowl the hardest overs on batting-friendly pitches. KKR are still playing well despite his fluctuations in fortune. He will have seven games plus the playoffs, if KKR get there, to get his execution where it needs to be for the World Cup.
Meanwhile, with Starc's recent form, Spencer Johnson could edge into Australia's final 15 given he has been playing regular cricket for Titans, while Nathan Ellis hasn't for Punjab Kings. Australia will want a left-arm pace option in their XI at the World Cup. Johnson has been much more economical than Starc across the tournament, although he has been playing on lower-scoring pitches. His overall bowling impact is only marginally better than Starc's according to ESPNCricinfo's Smart Stats.

Alex Malcolm is an associate editor at ESPNcricinfo