Impactful Adam Zampa turning it Australia's way when it matters
Australia haven't been picking Agar, with Zampa shouldering the burden of being the only spinner well
Four overs, 12 dots, 12 runs, two wickets. Adam Zampa put on a masterclass of T20 bowling against Sri Lanka which turned the game in Australia's favour.
It was his most economical four overs in T20Is, and it was made even more impressive by coming on the back of a strong start by the opposition's top order. When he was brought on, Sri Lanka were 60 for 1 off seven overs; when he finished, they were 97 for 5 off 14.
"I think when you're looking at the impact on a game, Zamps was terrific," captain Aaron Finch said. "On the back of a really good powerplay from Sri Lanka, the way that he controlled the game, especially from that bottom end where the right-handers had a short boundary to hit to, he was fantastic. He got big wickets. That was a world-class performance from him."
There is a heavy burden on Zampa's shoulders in the current make-up of the Australia side with Ashton Agar, with whom he had formed a very successful pairing, shelved to allow room for the extra batter. He has so far carried it well, taking 2 for 21 against South Africa before the even better showing on Thursday. With his team-mate sidelined, Zampa has now risen to be Australia's highest-ranked T20I bowler and the fifth-best in the world.
"Adam is huge for us," Pat Cummins said. "I think he's one of the premier spin bowlers in the world in white-ball cricket. He's been fantastic for us for a long time.
"Just knowing in this format batters can get away, there can be a big start in the first six overs, but having especially a wristspinner is just hugely beneficial for us. He can take those couple of wickets, keep it tight, and then we can attack from the other end. He showed how good he is last night."
"I had to back my own preparation and I feel like my last six weeks were better than my preparation for any other tour during Covid times."Zampa on his tournament build-up
It comes on the back of an unconventional build-up for Zampa. He lives in Byron Bay, in northern New South Wales close to the Queensland border, and during the recent lockdown was unable to travel to Sydney to train with his state team - who he joined last year and who he is yet to actually play for - and so was left to practice in the nets with young club batters to bowl at.
"There were some Northern Rivers academy Under-19 kids I bowled to. It was pretty cool," Zampa told AAP ahead of the tournament. "If they got a hold of one they'd get into me a little bit but if I spun one past them or something, they'd blame the wicket. It was good fun.
"It was really nice that people were willing to do that. It kind of took me back to being a young country cricketer. I remember being 15 or 16 and having pretty similar sessions. I had to back my own preparation and I feel like my last six weeks were better than my preparation for any other tour during Covid times."
While his performance against Sri Lanka came against a side he has always enjoyed playing - he has 16 wickets now at 10.62 and an economy of 5.31 against them - his biggest challenges are around the corner.
Australia, undefeated so far in the T20 World Cup, now face England in their third match, who themselves stand unbeaten in two games until now. But Zampa's previous - and only - three outings against England have not been pretty with three wickets and an economy of 10.39, although they came in Australia's first series of the Covid era last September. In the first game, 2-0-12-0 became 4-0-47-0 after Dawid Malan took him apart, and in the second match the decision to give him the 19th against Jos Buttler and Moeen Ali backfired.
West Indies also loom as a threat, although with that game being Australia's last of the group it remains to be seen how vital it is in terms of progression. Zampa was wicketless in the first three matches in the Caribbean this year, where he went for 93 in ten overs but came back strongly in the last two.
England will no doubt target Australia's fifth-bowling combination as Sri Lanka did, but they are unlikely to want to allow Zampa to settle. He bowled 11 wrong 'uns out of his 24-ball spell on Thursday, which could be an important weapon against Malan, who dominated him in England last year with 44 runs from 22 balls for once out.
Andrew McGlashan is a deputy editor at ESPNcricinfo