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Australia takeaways: Inglis steps up, Finch's worrying form, and the Agar conundrum

Also, could Hazlewood be the new leader of the T20I attack?

Alex Malcolm
Josh Inglis was impressive in his debut series  •  Getty Images

Josh Inglis was impressive in his debut series  •  Getty Images

Australia wrapped up their five-match T20I series against Sri Lanka 4-1 but it wasn't all smooth sailing. The world champions won one match in a Super Over after letting Sri Lanka back in the game while the visitors thoroughly outplayed them in the final match at the MCG.
Australia used the series to rest key players including David Warner, Mitchell Marsh, Josh Hazlewood, Mitchell Starc and Pat Cummins at various times while Steven Smith missed three games through concussion. They took the chance to experiment to see where they could improve ahead of their home title defence. Here are four key takeaways.
Finch's form remains a worry
Aaron Finch's captaincy is a key asset to Australia's side but his batting form is concerning. He has reached 50 just once in his last 18 innings and has nine single-figure scores and is striking at just 111.57. In this series, he scored just 78 runs in five innings at a strike rate of 91.76. The batting surfaces were more challenging than expected and scores overall were low. But he was pinned down by both spin and pace.
However, Australia are not concerned as they feel like they have been here before with their skipper. He suffered a big slump in the lead-up to the 2019 50-over World Cup and had another similar run during the 2020-21 BBL but fought his way back both times. Each time he has required some remedial work with his head positioning and balance to get things back on track. He is perhaps fortunate that Ben McDermott failed to nail his opportunity and stake a claim for a permanent place in the side when Warner returns. But as the BBL proves year in year out, big scores at high strike rates from openers in Australia win T20 tournaments more often than not. Australia will need an opening combination firing on all cylinders if they are to defend their title later this year.
Inglis makes a case to replace Smith
Josh Inglis took to international cricket like a duck to water in this series. He looked magnificent at both No. 3 and No. 5, capable of both capitalising on good starts or bailing the team out of trouble, as he did in the fourth T20I at the MCG. He reached 20 in every innings and made 155 runs in five hits striking at 143.51. His versatility and his ability to score at a quick rate against both pace and spin, without taking reckless risks, begs the question if he's a better option than Smith as Australia's Mr. Fix It in the middle order.
Smith only played two games in this series because of the concussion he suffered in the field in Sydney. Smith's team-mates have defended his place in the side vociferously citing his rare ability to problem solve as one of Australia's modern greats. The team is convinced that if he wasn't spreading his talents across the three formats, with a particular focus on his Test game, then he could be a great T20 batter with a decent run of preparation and games into a World Cup. But Australia is building some batting depth in the middle order and suddenly there are quality options available.
Hazlewood could be the new leader of the T20I attack
Hazlewood could easily have been the Player of the Series despite only playing three games. He took eight wickets at 8.12 with an extraordinary economy rate of 5.41. He also bowled a superb Super Over to help Australia claim victory in the second T20I in Sydney. Following on from his 3 for 16 in the T20 World Cup final, he may have taken the mantle from Starc as Australia's premier T20I fast bowler. Starc's own form in T20Is has been far from his best in recent times. In his last three T20Is, including the T20 World Cup final and two matches in this series, he has bowled 12 overs without taking a wicket while conceding 131 runs. Australia do have some bench strength in the fast-bowling department with Jhye Richardson and Kane Richardson bowling well at times in this series but the absence of their World Cup-winning trio in Hazlewood, Starc and Cummins in the final T20I loss to Sri Lanka was noteworthy, particularly in the powerplay.
Agar's bowling an asset but he can only be used in a four-man attack
Ashton Agar bowled superbly in this series after playing just one game in the T20 World Cup, having lost his place due to the balance of the team requiring seven batters. He took 3 for 47 in 12 overs and did not concede a boundary in the three games he played after missing out on selection in the first two matches. He strangled Sri Lanka's batting line-up in the middle overs. Australia have settled on the fact that they must play seven batters and this series, like the T20 World Cup, proved the value of having Matthew Wade at No. 7 instead of Agar. The spinner was oddly trialled as an opener in two games but again it was clear that it can't work as a long-term strategy. If Agar is going to be utilised in a home World Cup, where he can be a huge asset given his control, bounce, changes of pace, and ability to defend on big grounds, then he will have to play in a four-man attack. That will mean Australia will need to leave out one of their big three quicks and play two spinners, or he plays in front of Adam Zampa, which seems unlikely.

Alex Malcolm is an Associate Editor at ESPNcricinfo