Australia wary of ‘pushing too hard’ in crucial bid to improve T20 World Cup run rate

One day before Australia’s final T20 World Cup group match, captain Aaron Finch was doing the maths. “I’m not bad when it’s in cricket terms. When it’s anything else – maths wasn’t my best subject at school. One thing that I love is when they have a runs per over required when you’re chasing … it’s never been my strong point.”

His first set of calculations involved sore hamstrings: “maybe 70-30” was how he assessed the likelihood that his injury will let him play. Batting finisher Tim David was “in exactly the same boat”, the pair showing similar results on their scans. Both would be put through a workout from medical staff to assess whether they can endure the rigours of an international match.

Even if cleared, risk avoidance means the players still have a final call to make. “That’s the worst possible scenario, that you leave the guys short out there with one player fewer,” Finch said. “One hundred percent, if I don’t feel confident in my hamstring then I won’t play. That might be in the first effort that I do today, it might be in the last one.” Then later: “If I feel like it 1% would be compromising the side’s performance I won’t play.”

To recap, that means a 1% problem will create a 100% chance of withdrawing from a match, in situations within the 30% likelihood that the test is not satisfactory. A test that falls within the 70% field of a satisfactory result means that a player is 100% ready to go. Upcoming opponents Afghanistan have a simpler set of numbers: spinner Rashid Khan with his sore knee is still their No 1 player, and even at 50% capacity is still a 100% chance to play.

Finch’s other equation is more complex: net run rate, and how much Australia would need to improve theirs to surpass England for a semi-final place should the two finish level on points. Net run rate makes sense as a cricketing concept – how fast did you score compared with how well you defended? But it’s not a calculation that most people can do in their heads while sitting in the stands, and the results are not intuitive at a glance in the way that something like goal difference in football is.

As laid out already, Australia’s requirement is substantial but plausible: beat Afghanistan by about 60 runs or within 13 overs. Any margin wider or chase faster would build a run-rate lead over England. Again, though, Finch counselled caution. “You still have to earn the right to push for net run rate, because the last thing that you want to happen is you push too hard, you compromise the two points.” Which may seem counterintuitive given that a small win would be useless if England also win – but England have to play Sri Lanka a day after Australia’s match. Any Australian win at least maintains the pressure, and leaves Sri Lanka knowing they can still shape the group.

Only after that caveat would Finch take a broader look. “We’ll sit down as a strategy group after training today when we’ve got more information on [selection]. Once we do that, we’ll go through all the scenarios … If you walk out and think ‘We need to get 250’, and you go all guns blazing, then you could leave yourselves really vulnerable. So regardless of whether we bat first, bowl first, the first three or four overs is still key to being successful. That then allows guys at the back of that to play their natural game, maybe be overtly aggressive at certain times with bat or ball, searching for wickets or searching for quick runs.”

Shuffling a batting order might depend on those injuries. If one player misses, Cameron Green would likely come in, the giant who opened recently in India to smash 61 from 30 balls and follow up with 52 off 21. Steve Smith could add middle-order creativity. If both injured players miss out, those two are the only options in the squad. Within the XI, promoting Glenn Maxwell or Marcus Stoinis for the powerplay would be an option, considering the likelihood of Afghanistan bowling spin during it. More than anything, David Warner needs to come good at the top.

As for the bowling, returning the new ball to Mitchell Starc might be the way. For years Starc opened in white-ball cricket, swinging the ball into stumps like few before him. But the ball doesn’t always swing, and recently Australia have wanted his threat deeper into the innings. “If you don’t get wickets through that middle phase of the game, you are incredibly vulnerable at the back end regardless of who is bowling,” said Finch. Maybe so, but in a game where early wickets will be even more vital than usual, that’s a chance that has to be taken.

Plenty of sums ahead, then: a squad of 15 into a team of 11, four overs per bowler and how they are deployed, and two different versions of required scoring rate. As Finch says, if England lose to Sri Lanka the following day, then school is dismissed for the summer. But if Australia can take the lead on run rate, and England later find themselves in a position to win, it will be over to another team to make the calculations.