Australia begin their summer with a three-match T20I series against Sri Lanka, whose second string squad shocked Pakistan in Lahore earlier this month, beating them in all three T20I matches.
A year from now Australia will be hosting the ICC World T20 – a tournament they are yet to win – for the first time ever. Before the premier event in their backyard, they play 24 games in the shortest format and would hope to begin their preparation with a set of convincing performances against Sri Lanka.
The Islanders have an excellent T20I record in Australia, winning five of their previous six games. They’ve lost just once and that was at Adelaide, the same venue where the series commences on Sunday.
Here are a few talking points going into the series:
The return of Smith and Warner
The first T20I at Adelaide will be Steve Smith and David Warner’s first international match at home since the infamous sandpaper scandal at Newlands. This will be the Warner’s first international game in the shortest format since the ban while Smith, surprisingly last played in a T20I in 2016.
The southpaw alongside Aaron Finch at the top of the order makes for an explosive opening combination and the presence of Smith in the middle-order would help in anchoring an innings as the power hitters in Glenn Maxwell and Ashton Turner play their natural game.
Starc difference in pace between the two teams
The home team’s fast bowling can be fiery on their day with Mitchell Starc and Pat Cummins expected to lead the attack. They’ll be assisted by one or two of the other T20 specialists in Sean Abbott, Kane Richardson and Billy Stanlake. Bowling at the death will be an area of focus for Australia and each of the above mentioned fast bowlers are more than capable of delivering accurate yorkers and well-disguised slower deliveries.
The absence of a genuinely quick bowler is a major problem for Sri Lanka in the shortest format. They do have one of the greatest in Lasith Malinga who at the age of 36 still produces magic from time to time. His four wickets in four deliveries against New Zealand and his composure to bowl a slower delivery in the final over to win the IPL title for Mumbai Indians are testament to his skill. However, he lacks support from his inconsistent colleagues Nuwan Pradeep, Isuru Udana, Kasun Rajitha and Lahiru Kumara.
The search for the wrist-spinner:
Modern T20 teams believe playing a wrist-spinner is absolutely essential and going by the stats it isn’t a baseless notion with leg-spinners dominating the top ten wicket-takers in T20Is.
Sri Lanka have two wrist-spinners in their squad – chinaman bowler Lakshan Sandakan and leggie Wanindu Hasaranga. The 22-year-old Hasaranga looks an exciting prospect, having picked up 12 wickets in just six T20I games. After successful exploits in the subcontinent against New Zealand and Pakistan, a trip Down Under to play against some of the most aggressive batsmen in the world would be a stern test for Hasaranga.
His partner, Sandakan hasn’t proved to be a wicket-taker so far in his three-year limited overs career but does have a decent economy rate of seven runs per over.
The options in Australia’s slow bowling department include leg-spinner Adam Zampa, Ashton Agar and the off-spin of Glenn Maxwell. Zampa bowls tight lines and boasts of an excellent economy but Australia continue to depend on their pacers for wickets. Considering that Steve Smith is the next best leg-spinner in the squad, the 27-year-old Zampa needs to find the knack of providing breakthroughs in the middle-overs to cement his position in the team.
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