Australia's assistant coach Daniel Vettori
pointed to Kane Richardson
's death-bowling prowess as he defended the decision to leave out pace bowler Mitchell Starc
for their match against Afghanistan
on Friday. Starc was used as a third or fourth bowling option - as opposed to a new-ball bowler - for the best part of the men's T20 World Cup 2022 and was replaced by Richardson in the XI for their final group game, after an extended drop in form.
"It was a tactical decision [to leave out Starc]," Vettori said after the match. "We brought in Kane to play the role he executed tonight at the back-end of the powerplay, looking at the death overs where Kane has been exceptional in the past. We were looking to use Josh Hazlewood at the start and implement a plan around him and Pat [Cummins] being effective with the new ball and pushed Mitch into a role where he's competing with Kane Richardson, especially at the death where everyone thought Kane excels."
Starc's T20I economy rate at the death (overs 17-20) has risen from 8.66 to 10.30 in the last three years, while Richardson's corresponding figure is 9.50. However, in a game Australia needed to win by a huge margin to sneak ahead of England on net run rate, Richardson had a difficult outing, conceding 16 in the one death over he bowled, and 48 in four overs - his third-most expensive T20I figures. In the end, any hopes of a huge victory quickly evaporated, with Australia eking out a four-run win.
Vettori, however, said the decision to leave Starc out was a product of relying on Hazlewood and Cummins for wickets up top.
"It was more around the effectiveness of Hazlewood and Cummins at the top and their ability to take the new ball and be wicket-takers, and therefore that pushed Starcy into a different role, and he obviously came up against Kane Richardson," he said. "It was thought among the hierarchy that Kane is exceptional at the death and we'll utilise him there as opposed to Mitch. Players can [be flexible], particularly in their home country where you have a bigger sample size; you've seen Kane in the Big Bash and internationals and understand how effective he can be in this format.
"I think we'll reflect on that and Kane would say he probably missed a couple at the backend of two overs. But apart from that the majority of his spell was what we expected. So if that had been tidied up he would have had a great day."
The decision to leave Starc out for such a big game led to criticism from former Australian cricketers, including Michael Clarke
and Tom Moody
, who called it "very alarming".
"That really surprises me," Moody said on ESPNcricinfo T20 Time:Out. "There must be something more to it than a tactical selection. I would be alarmed if they think that is the tactical way to go about trying to bowl Afghanistan out for less than 100."
Even Afghanistan coach Jonathan Trott
couldn't help but express surprise at Australia's decision to line up without Starc.
"It was a little bit of a surprise to us," he said at the post-match press conference. "We heard there were rumours but you never want to preempt or suggest injuries. So you prepare for any inevitability. We're not sure why Starc didn't play, but Richardson came in and replaced Starc. So we had to adjust to that a little bit as well.
"We thought Starc was going to play. We prepared for that. Obviously we saw Richardson marking his run-up. That was a real surprise for us - we don't know any reason."