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Analysis

Takeaways: Why Fraser-McGurk and Smith missed out on T20 World Cup selection

Agar's spin seen as vital in the Caribbean while Ellis is pushing his case to start in the XI, as per chair of selectors Bailey

Alex Malcolm
Alex Malcolm
01-May-2024
Jake Fraser-McGurk lofts one down the ground, Gujarat Titans vs Delhi Capitals, IPL 2024, Ahmedabad, April 17, 2024

Jake Fraser-McGurk was left out of Australia's 15  •  BCCI

Australia's selectors named an experienced 15-member squad for the T20 World Cup 2024 with no room for Jake Fraser-McGurk or Steven Smith. Here are the main takeaways and some of the reasoning behind the decision-making.

Need for flexibility ruled out Fraser-McGurk and Smith

The omission of Jake Fraser-McGurk will stir some strong opinion from the Australian public. Despite Australia's current selection panel picking teams that have delivered a World Test Championship, retained the Ashes away from home, won an ODI World Cup in India and three of their last four T20I series, there is a strong penchant amongst the public for new blood to be injected into a team that has looked like a closed shop to those on the outside. There certainly is a case to be made for a younger player to be added for experience with future World Cups in mind. Cameron Green, soon to be 25, is the only player under 28 in Australia's squad.
Fraser-McGurk is that new blood who is taking T20 powerplay batting to another level. The question the selectors had to answer was whether he was a better option than any of their incumbent top three in Travis Head, David Warner and Mitchell Marsh. Head has been in equally astonishing form in the IPL.
Warner is arguably Australia's greatest T20 batter of all time. There will be those who say he's not the player he once was, with his recent IPL returns being underwhelming before a finger injury paused his season. It is understood he is nearing a return and could be available for Delhi Capitals' last three games. He will have a point to prove given how good Fraser-McGurk has been in his absence. But Warner also posted scores of 70 off 36, 22 off 19, 81 off 49 and 32 off 20 in his last four T20Is in February with Australia winning three of them. The man who bats No.3 for Australia is the newly-minted captain in Marsh. Australia's chair of selectors George Bailey said Fraser-McGurk had not done enough to displace the incumbents.
"He was close," Bailey said. "His form's been great of late and that's fantastic. But the way we're functioning on top of the order with the three guys we've had there has been really strong as well."
The question then becomes whether he should have found a place in the 15. Bailey and the selectors surmised that Fraser-McGurk, like Steven Smith, was not well-suited to any other role. With only four extra squad members outside the first XI and a schedule that has Australia playing four pool games in 11 days and then potentially three Super Eights games in five days before a semi-final and a final within five days after that, there is very little room to carry specialists. The selectors wanted a fourth fast bowler in Nathan Ellis. They wanted a second specialist spinner in the left-arm orthodox of Ashton Agar, given they play all of their matches in the Caribbean.
The two extra batters were then required to cover multiple roles. Josh Inglis is the spare wicketkeeper, who has batted in every spot from No.2-5 in T20I cricket including making 110 off 50 balls against India at No.3 last year. Green has batted in nearly every spot from No.1-7 in the order in T20 cricket bar No.4. Like Fraser-McGurk he has an outstanding record in the top three, including a 47-ball unbeaten 100 in the IPL last year, but has struggled in the middle-order despite one promising innings for Royal Challengers Bengaluru this year. Green can probably count himself fortunate to be in the squad given his recent returns and his focus on red-ball cricket over the past 12 months. But Green's bowling allows him to cover for Marsh and Marcus Stoinis, who both have a history of injury issues and may need to be managed in the compacted tournament.
"We're just looking to get the balance that we want in terms of getting across there and playing each game, different opponents, different venues different surfaces and wanting to get all 15 players on the selection table for each and every game to be able to have those discussions to structure up how we want," Bailey said.
"[Fraser-McGurk] certainly looks like top of the order is where he's best suited. We think we've got some other guys that have got some good flexibility around where they'll bat and as part of the build I think we've seen some players perform in some different batting roles to sort of cover off that for any eventuality."
Ultimately, the selectors felt they couldn't carry an extra top-order only batter like Fraser-McGurk or Smith. Bailey said there was room for things to change before the final squad is set in stone on May 25 but it is unlikely anything other than injury will change their thinking.

Agar a must for the Caribbean

The selectors decided they did not need an extra spinner in the squad for the ODI World Cup in India when they omitted the injured Agar to find a place for Marnus Labuschagne. Agar has not played an international since and has not played a T20I since the 2022 World Cup. His last game of cricket was at club level in March. He is still under a Cricket Australia contract until July but has lost his CA deal for 2024-25 and is set to become a freelancer.
However, the selectors think the left-arm spinner is a must for the Caribbean. England are Australia's second opponent in the pool phase in Barbados. England lost a T20I series to the West Indies in December with two left-arm orthodox spinners in Akeal Hosein and Gudakesh Motie wreaking havoc to their right-hand heavy line-up at times. The selectors also looked back as far as 2021 and Australia's last trip to the Caribbean for further evidence. They want the option of playing Agar, legspinner Adam Zampa, and offspinner Glenn Maxwell in the same XI if the conditions and the opponent demand it.
"The last time we had a white-ball series over in the West Indies we had some surfaces that turned," Bailey said. "I think as the tournament goes on, if you do happen to start playing on some wickets that have been played on before or have had a fair bit of traffic on them that's certainly a possibility. It gives us the ability to structure up a little bit differently and potentially play Zamps and Ash in conjunction with Maxi as well. So you've got options there."

Ellis is pushing the big three

There was some debate around who should be Australia's fourth fast bowler behind Pat Cummins, Josh Hazlewood and Mitchell Starc with Spencer Johnson, Jason Behrendorff, Sean Abbott and Xavier Bartlett all part of the conversation. But the selectors felt Ellis stood head and shoulders above the rest given his performances for Australia when he has played. Bailey noted he could challenge the big three for a spot in the best XI given his T20 skills.
"Every time he's played for Australia he's really impressed," Bailey said. "I think he's one who's challenging for a starting position in the XI. He's got a slightly different skill set to the other guys that are there. So I think those four quicks all complement each other really well."
Bailey said there were no concerns over Starc's form in the IPL and backed him to fire at the T20 World Cup given his performances for Australia over a long period. Starc has not played a T20I for Australia since he was dropped for the last game of the home World Cup in 2022.

Alex Malcolm is an associate editor at ESPNcricinfo