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Did Australia miss a trick by not asking Marcus Stoinis to open the innings in the T20I series against England? This is one of the many questions that will have visited the Baggy Green dugout in the immediate aftermath of the series loss on Tuesday.
As the think-tank sits down to introspect what went wrong in the series, the deliberations, one dares say, will essentially revolve around the batting order or what it should have been.
The burly Victorian all-rounder was promoted to opening the batting by Melbourne Stars, his team in the Big Bash, in 2018. The move fetched the desired results as Stoinis led the batting charts for the Stars in the 2018-’19 season, aggregating 533 runs at a stunning average of 53.03.
The batting exploits apart, he also starred with the ball in that Big Bash season, finishing with 14 wickets.
He capped off the sensational season by winning the crown for the ‘Player of the Series’.
The following season turned out to be even better for the Victorian as he amassed the highest ever batting tally in a single season of the Big Bash League, overtaking D’Arcy Short who held the previous record.
His tally in the 2020-’21 season stood at an incredible 695 runs in 16 innings. He scored six fifties and a ton in the last BBL season at an eye-popping strike rate of 137.74.
The 31-year-old’s staggering returns with the willow followed a lean spell which even saw him making way for Ashton Agar in the Australian T20 side for the series against Pakistan and Sri Lanka last year.
Speaking to ESPNCricinfo last year on being dropped from the national team and whether he was willing to open for Australia in the shortest format, the all-rounder said he was game to batting in any position in the shortest format.
“I’ve batted Nos. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, I’ve bowled in the power play, I’ve bowled at the death, I’ve bowled in the middle, I’ve fielded in the slips, I’ve fielded on the boundary, I’ve fielded at cover. Something I pride myself on is being adaptable. I’ve played a lot of cricket in multiple positions so I should be okay (opening the batting),”the Victorian said.
While he has since made a comeback to the national side, the recent series against England served as an affirmation that he is still seen as a late-order enforcer with the bat and a wicket-taker whenever called on to bowl.
The series loss against the traditional rivals will have once again led many back home to question why the Victorian isn’t being asked to launch the innings for Australia in the shortest format despite his humongous returns in BBL.
The reason, as one understands, is that the Australian think-tank may not be ready and willing to do away with a set opening pair in Aaron Finch and David Warner, which has served them well in limited overs cricket. They have raised 10 century opening stands for Australia in ODIs, second only to Adam Gilchrist and Matthew Hayden who put together 16 for the Baggy Greens.
However, while upsetting a settled opening pair might not feature in the immediate plans of the team management, it could be an option worth considering in the long run.
After failing to take Australia past the finish line in the first T20I against England, Stoinis was sent in at No. 3 in the third match. The move seemed to be paying off as the Victorian raced to 26 off 18 balls before he was caught in the outfield.
The innings, though brief, showed glimpses of the damage he could do if sent up the batting order. During his frustrating spell on the crease in the first innings, Stoinis was visibly at pains to time the relatively older ball, resulting in him playing dots and pushing up the scoring rate.
From cruise-mode, Australia wilted under mounting scoreboard pressure to eventually lose a game they should have won. Would things have turned out differently had Stoinis been pushed up the order? Who knows?
While nobody would dare question his place in the Australian T20 line-up, his future as opener in this format could be called into question after a string of underwhelming performances. While he would still score a neat 50 against the best of attacks, he doesn’t look like the Warner of old.
What would strike a careful observer about his batsmanship these days is that he doesn’t go at the same clip as he used to in his heydays. Even his reflexes and hand-eye-coordination seems to have slowed with age.
So, with the next T20 World Cup in mind, could the Australian think-tank be considering a new opening pair? Well, they very well might.
Underlining his importance given the all-round skills that he brings to the team, former Australia batsman David Hussey who coaches him at the Melbourne Stars, said if he were a selector, Stoinis would be playing all-three formats.
“He’s probably one of the best all-rounders going around in T20 cricket and probably the longer form of the game as well. If I were a selector, I think he’d be playing Test match cricket, one-day cricket and T20 cricket for Australia. He’s that talented, works hard and is a great team man,”Hussey told ESPNcricinfo.
While it’s still a while before Stoinis is discussed for all three formats, the selectors might well consider asking him to open in T20Is. With the Victorian already 31, they might not have too much time to decide.