Australia’s men’s team has never lifted the T20 World Cup. Their best effort came in 2010 under the leadership of Michael Clarke, who rarely played in that format. They have failed to reach the knockout stage of the past two tournaments.
Despite their modest record, there is good reason to be confident Australia can next year win the only major trophy to have eluded them.
The event is at home for the first time after three consecutive editions on the subcontinent. Australia are actually playing games in the lead-up, with the current matches against Sri Lanka the first of 21. Their preparation for the 2016 tournament included just one match in 2015 and six at the start of the year at home and South Africa – hardly ideal for a campaign in India.
The selectors are taking it more seriously as well. Key players used to be left out of Twenty20 series to freshen up after long Test campaigns. Steve Smith was a case in point. Last weekend was the first time he had played for Australia in the format since the 2016 World Cup.
“I think leading into the World Cup, having those games will be really important,” Michael Hussey, who is an assistant to Langer for the Sri Lanka series, said.
“The players know their roles but have 20 times to carry them out. In the past they’d tack on a T20 game at the end of a series, or there’d be a one-off game here and there and it’d be difficult to build a team and the continuity and style of play you want.”
Hussey was part of the side that made the final in the Caribbean in 2010. He sees similarities between that team and the current version. Back then, they had power at the top through Shane Watson, David Warner and Cameron White. Warner now has Finch and Glenn Maxwell to share the big hits.
Australia’s attack was built on the express pace of Mitchell Johnson, Dirk Nannes and Shaun Tait, all of whom could reach 150 km/h.
“That was our point of difference,” Hussey said.
Now there’s Cummins and Mitchell Starc, a fearsome duo anywhere let alone in Australian conditions.
There is more nuance to selection. Lesser known players such as Ashton Turner and Ben McDermott, who might not have the big numbers of batsmen at the top, are being recognised for the different role they play in the middle and later overs.
Tom Moody, who won the Indian Premier League with Hyderabad Sunrisers in 2016, endorsed the decision not to stack their side with all-rounders.
“What I like is their structure,” Moody said. “It seems in this format they are focusing on specialists, and it’s clear that all the players have role clarity. A mix of all-rounder in my view doesn’t work.”
Australia’s coaching staff is arguably the best in terms of Twenty20 CA have assembled. Langer won three BBL titles with Perth, his newly appointed assistant Andrew McDonald won last year’s tournament and also has a gig with Rajasthan Royals in the Indian Premier League. There is also the option to draft in Ricky Ponting, who has built a formidable record in the IPL.
The format was once seen as a hit and giggle but stats are now widely used by franchises. Hussey, who has extensive Twenty20 experience as a player, coach and list builder with Sydney Thunder, believes Australia are a world leader in their use of numbers.
“Being part of the team this week, I have no doubt whatsoever Australia is up to speed from the analytics and analysis side of things,” Hussey said.
“They’re actually exceeding what’s going on around the world, in my book. The level of detail you can get these days is phenomenal.”
It may have taken Australia longer than most to take Twenty20 seriously but it’s better late than never.
“It’s no secret we’re putting more of a focus to T20 cricket,” Langer said. “In the past, it’s been a time when some have had a break because it’s been convenient. We have to focus on that now.”
Andrew Wu writes on cricket and AFL for The Sydney Morning Herald