Australia vs New Zealand first T20, cricket news 2024, questions over Steve Smith spot T20 World Cup squad, stats, analysis

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Confirmation from Australian captain Mitch Marsh that Travis Head will open alongside David Warner in a T20 in Auckland today could spell trouble for champion batsman Steve Smith’s World Cup hopes this year.

Former England captain Michael Vaughan believes that if Smith is not used as an opener in the format, his value diminishes and his spot in the squad for the T20 World Cup in the West Indies and Unites States in June could be in peril as a result.

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“I think his only position really is to open, because he has the skill in the game to maximise that first six overs brilliantly. He is a skilful player,” Vaughan told foxsports.com.au.

“But if he is not going to open, I don’t think he should play. If you are going to play him, he bats in the top two, and that is great. He will face 50 balls and get you an 80 or 90.

“If he is not going to open, I don’t see him having an impact in the middle order after the powerplay. You need people who can whack it into the stands from (overs) six to 20.

“He can do that once he is in, but I think he is a better player in the first six (overs) when there are only two men outside the circle.”

WELLINGTON, NEW ZEALAND – FEBRUARY 19: Travis Head in action during an Australia training session ahead of the Men’s T20 International series between New Zealand and Australia at Basin Reserve on February 19, 2024 in Wellington, New Zealand. (Photo by Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)Source: Getty Images

The three match tour of New Zealand beginning today, which precedes a two Test series against the Black Caps, is Australia’s final hitout before the T20 World Cup.

The Australians are seeking to become the first country to be the champion team in all three formats at the same time after winning the World Test Championship and ODI World Cup last year.

Marsh, who will captain Australia against New Zealand in the T20 series, confirmed on Tuesday that he will bat at No.3 behind Warner and Head today but hinted it was unlikely Australia will field the same team in all three matches as they seek answers.

Australian great Mike Hussey believes selectors have a firm idea of the squad they want to take to the Caribbean in June but are seeking more information on their batting order.

“All playing well, we saw during the 50-over World Cup how dynamic (the Warner and Head partnership) can be and if they do get off to a flying start, then it’s pretty hard to sort of stop them,” Hussey said.

“I guess that’s where the next phase of the batting will come into play, really, and what the selectors are thinking there. That is probably going to be the most interesting point for me.

“I sort of feel like that No.5 spot could be the one that is probably giving them the most headaches.”

Hussey, a member of the 2003 and 2007 ODI World Cup winning teams, believes Australia “obviously want to be really aggressive at the top with Warner and Head and Mitch Marsh, and you throw Glenn Maxwell in there at No.4”.

The challenge, he said, is who comes in next, with Smith the clear query.

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When it comes to the strike rate of Australian batters since July 2020, the former skipper sits 10th at 116.71, a vastly inferior rate to potential World Cup candidates including Tim David, Matt Short, Josh Inglis and Marcus Stoinis.

“So do they go for a Steve Smith type in case they lose quick wickets and they need someone just to … bat a few overs and resurrect the (innings)?

“Or do they go the other way and say, ‘No. We just go along with all-out power all the way down the list and you throw Stoinis in there or Inglis, and obviously Tim David will be there as well?

“It’s just a philosophical thing. Do they have that one player who could maybe just play the situation a little bit in case the team gets in trouble? Or philosophically, do they think that ‘No. We’re just going to back our power in and just keep going’, basically.”

PERTH, AUSTRALIA – DECEMBER 13: Mike Hussey talks with Alex Carey during an Australian nets session at Optus Stadium on December 13, 2023 in Perth, Australia. (Photo by Paul Kane/Getty Images)Source: Getty Images

Vaughan, who said he was surprised Australia did not take a chance on young sensation Jake Fraser-McGurk for New Zealand, backed Warner and Head as the nation’s best opening combination in the format.

The Fox Cricket expert said the recently completed series between Australia and the West Indies showed the merits of sustained attack in T20 matches.

“I would go Warner-Head. You want to go ultra aggressive at the top of the order in T20 cricket,” Vaughan said.

“I think you go ultra-aggressive in your top three with players who can crack it. You have 120 balls … and you want your most aggressive players facing most of those balls.

“I enjoyed the method of both the West Indies and Australia in that three match series and I think both teams are going to be very dangerous in the World Cup.

“I think a lot of teams … are all realising now that you’ve just got to be ultra-aggressive. Every now and again, you might have a rebuilder in your team, someone who can just knock it around, but … I think the way that the game is going, you need ultra-aggressive players all the way down your order.”

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