Big call looms on big three quicks as Aussies look to erupt

Aussie selectors face a tough decision on whether to include Ashton Agar against Afghanistan on the tournament's most spin-friendly surface

A rare visit by Australia to the tiny volcanic island of Saint Vincent could coincide with an equally uncommon call to break up their star pace attack for a must-win World Cup match. 

Ashton Agar will come into contention to replace one of Pat Cummins, Josh Hazlewood or Mitchell Starc for Saturday night's (10.30am Sunday AEST) match against Afghanistan at the Kingstown venue boasting the tournament’s most spin-friendly pitches.

A victory over Rashid Khan's men should all but seal a semi-final berth for Australia after beating Bangladesh in their Super Eight opener.

Selectors George Bailey and Andrew McDonald were among the small Australian contingent to make a beeline for the windswept Arnos Vale Ground straight from Argyle Airport (not to be confused with the decommissioned ET Joshua Airport, whose runway finishes metres away from the players' changerooms) following their short flight from Antigua on Friday.

Predicting whether the dry surface that greeted them will offer as much turn as much it has in recent matches will be the main factor for selectors grappling with the difficult decision of dropping one of Pat Cummins, Mitchell Starc or Josh Hazlewood.

"Potentially," Cummins said of that possibility after taking his maiden international hat-trick against Bangladesh. "We've been pretty open with that, that anyone in the squad's ready to play and the bowling line-up might change at different times.

"The batting order might change and things like that. It's got to be adaptable. Obviously, Ash played (against Namibia), he bowled really well. So, we feel like we've got all bases covered.

"The best thing of all this is I'm not captain or selector or anything, so I just turn up and have no worries."

Before this tournament, it had been a decade since St Vincent had hosted international matches, with three West Indies-Australia ODIs played in 2012 (a series featuring current squad members David Warner and Matthew Wade, as well as support staff George Bailey and Clint McKay) among the most recent games played at Arnos Vale.

Current bowling coach Clint McKay and selector George Bailey were part of Australia's last visit to St Vincent in 2012 // AFP

The island's five World Cup games are also the first major fixtures it has welcomed since La Soufrière volcano erupted in early 2021, showering St Vincent (and neighbouring islands) with ash and forcing thousands to be evacuated.

The return of major cricket to the outpost has necessitated an uplift of the leeward-facing ground's surroundings, including repaving the roads circling and leading into the ground.

Whether the geology of the island on the eastern end of the Caribbean's small tectonic plate is a factor in its ground's favourability to spin bowlers is unclear.

Ashton Agar could come into contention to play against Afghanistan // Tama

But the glossy sheen the Australians have observed on more batter-friendly pitches in Antigua and St Lucia was not present when they inspected a wicket block about to host its fourth game in nine days.

Ground staff rolled back hessian protecting the surface from the baking heat when support staff and reserve players arrived on the eve of the Afghanistan clash.

Jake Fraser-McGurk, Matt Short, Josh Inglis and Cameron Green were the only players to opt for training over an afternoon nap following the almost 1am-finish to the Bangladesh match the previous evening.

That game saw the Starc-Cummins-Hazlewood trio reunited for only the second time in five matches this tournament. The latter two were rested to allow Agar to play against Namibia, returning 1-39 after he opened the bowling in his first international T20 in two years.

Reserve squad member Matt Short trains in St Vincent on Friday // Tama

The star pace group featuring together in Australia's two most important games of the tournament is a window into the faith they continue to have in a combination that delivered a maiden men's T20 title in 2021 and then a shock ODI crown last year.

That trio helped restrict reigning champions England in Barbados in their 36-run win in the group stage, before coming together again for a suffocating bowling effort in their 28-run DLS victory over Bangladesh.

If Agar's left-arm spin is deemed essential against Afghanistan, selectors would then face the tough call as to which fast bowler should miss. Playing five bowlers with Agar at seven no longer seems a likely option.

Hat-trick Patrick! Cummins claims career first

Cummins (six wickets at 11.33, economy rate of 6.18) and Hazlewood (three wickets at 30.66, economy 5.75) have superior numbers to Starc (three wickets at 36.33, economy 7.78) in this World Cup so far, but that hardly tells the full story.

On Thursday, Starc's wicket-taking prowess was on show once again when he clattered the new ball into opener Tanzid Hasan's stumps with the kind of full, swinging delivery that Cummins and Hazlewood rarely attempt.

While the left-armer is generally more expensive than the other two, he has delivered on the big stage time and again – most recently in the IPL finals with champions Kolkata Knight Riders.

The fact neither of Australia's white-ball titles won with the Starc-Hazlewood-Cummins trio came in pace-friendly conditions (2021 was in UAE and 2023 was India) means there is every chance incumbent duo Adam Zampa and Glenn Maxwell could be trusted to provide enough spin in St Vincent.

Starc breaks World Cup wickets record

Cummins suggested the bowling attack has been tweaking their approach for each venue.

"As a bowler, you're always getting lots of information," he said. "Across different islands, so each game has its own kind of little quirks and the pitches are slightly different.

"But I think you learn a general kind of methodology that you fine-tune with each game, so you're sequencing your execution of certain balls.

"You hope you get better and better and by the end of the tournament, you've got your game plan where you can give yourself as good a chance you can."

2024 ICC Men's T20 World Cup

Australia's squad: Mitch Marsh (c), Ashton Agar, Pat Cummins, Tim David, Nathan Ellis, Cameron Green, Josh Hazlewood, Travis Head, Josh Inglis, Glenn Maxwell, Mitchell Starc, Marcus Stoinis, Matthew Wade, David Warner, Adam Zampa

Australia's Group B fixtures

June 6: Beat Oman by 39 runs

June 9: Beat England by 36 runs

June 12: Beat Namibia by nine wickets

June 16: Beat Scotland by five wickets

Australia's Super Eight fixtures

21 June: Beat Bangladesh by 28 runs (DLS)

23 June: v Afghanistan, Arnos Vale Ground, St Vincent, 10.30am AEST

25 June: v India, Daren Sammy National Cricket Stadium, St Lucia, 12.30am AEST

Semi-finals to follow if Australia qualify

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