ICC Men's T20 World Cup 2021
Bold selection call that helped end Australia's drought
Skipper Aaron Finch reflects on Australia's decision to move Mitch Marsh up to No.3 in the batting order in place of Steve Smith, which proved decisive in their T20 World Cup win
15 November 2021, 07:48 AM AEST
It was the bold call Australia needed to make to finally break their T20 title drought.
Australia were planning for their tour of the Caribbean in June, still months out from their tilt at an elusive T20 World Cup title, when they decided that the most successful No.3 they have ever had in international T20 cricket would be better used elsewhere.
And that a better option was right under their noses.
Of all the first drops Australia's T20I team had tried for at least five innings before the Windies tour, only Mike Hussey had a better average (52) and only Glenn Maxwell a better strike-rate (140) than Steve Smith, whose 515 runs from No.3 have come at a strike rate of 139.94 and an average of 36.78.
No Australian had more experience batting there in T20Is.
Blooding Mitch Marsh, who had never previously been tried there for Australia, for the five matches in St Lucia and then an ensuing tour of Bangladesh would prove an inspired decision.
Against the Windies, Marsh crunched three half-centuries to be Australia's best batter for the series, before adding scores of 45, 45 and 51 on dicey pitches in Dhaka where spin – once his weak point – was dominant.
But to then stick with the 31-year-old at No.3 when Smith returned for the World Cup was the truly brave move, one that paid off when Marsh had his finest moment in white-ball cricket in Australia's World Cup final win over New Zealand.
"It was something we chatted about before the West Indies and then after (his good series) it just reassured us," Finch said after Marsh’s match-winning 77no off 50.
"Smithy was so open to (moving down the order). He'll do anything that the team needs. The way we wanted to structure up was to be more aggressive in the Powerplay. We saw how important that was with either bat or ball.
"Smudger's ability to play spin through the middle added that extra layer of confidence in our group, with Stoinis and Matty Wade behind him as well. It turned out to be a nice move."
Once the focal point of the T20 side, Smith went unused in three of Australia's seven matches but showed no ill will towards his demotion.
Marsh said it was the mark of a wider selflessness within the title-winning side.
"I haven't even thought about that once and I'm sure he hasn't either," Marsh said of his promotion at Smith’s expense.
"Everyone in this team was really clear on their roles before this World Cup before coming here, we all knew exactly where we were going to be in the line-up from three to seven, we could float at any stage and everyone bought into that.
"When you get a close team, with people wanting to play their roles no matter what, this is what you get. It's unbelievable."
Marsh himself had to put the team first when he was a surprise omission from Australia's XI for their loss to England that left their campaign on a knife's edge.
The Western Australian returned to post scores 16no off nine balls against Bangladesh (an important knock as the Aussies sought to increase their net run-rate), 53 off 32 against the Windies, 28 off 22 in the semi-final against Pakistan and then his player-of-the-match effort against the Kiwis.
All three innings coming in that crucial No.3 spot, where he had never batted at international just level five months ago.
"He obviously plays fast bowlers very well, growing up at the WACA he's very dominant off the back foot," Finch said of Marsh, who has made a concerted improvement against spin bowling.
"He's someone who loves the contest, loves the challenge and we just backed him from the start.
"We committed to him batting three for a long time, he knew that.
"That's all you need sometimes; you need some confidence from everyone else."
2021 Men's T20 World Cup
Aaron Finch (c), Ashton Agar, Pat Cummins (vc), Josh Hazlewood, Josh Inglis, Mitchell Marsh, Glenn Maxwell, Kane Richardson, Steve Smith, Mitchell Starc, Marcus Stoinis, Mitchell Swepson, Matthew Wade, David Warner, Adam Zampa. Travelling reserves: Dan Christian, Nathan Ellis, Daniel Sams