Aaron Finch might be in a race against time to be fit for the T20 World Cup, but irrespective of what happens on that front, Josh Inglis should be in Australia’s T20 World Cup squad, writes Rohit Sankar.
You don’t overshadow Jonny Bairstow often in T20 cricket. Certainly not when he is in beast mode, certainly not as his counterpart in the opposition side, and certainly not in his backyard. Josh Inglis did. On June 15, 2021, the English-born Western Australia wicketkeeper-batsman, still warming up to his first taste of franchise cricket outside Australia, gave Bairstow’s Yorkshire a mighty scare.
Having put up 240 batting first, thanks to a 45-ball 82 from Jonny Bairstow, at Headingley in a T20 Blast game against Leicestershire, Yorkshire were greeted by the 26-year-old Inglis, noted for his Big Bash League exploits, even though it has been only two years since he became a regular in the tournament.
Inglish slammed David Willey for two fours in the opening over and three more in the fourth over of the innings. At the end of the powerplay, Inglis had already raced to 31 off 12 balls and Leicestershire to 81-2. Yorkshire still had the cushion of runs, but their total looked increasingly at risk as Inglis hit top gear.
He fell for the exact same score as Bairstow, taking eight balls lesser than the England opener. Leicestershire did not gun down the total and finished 18 runs short, but Inglis had announced himself.
Four days later, he was making his first T20 hundred. Nearly a month later, he bettered that score. At the end of the 2021 T20 Blast’s group stages, Inglis has more runs than any other batsman (531) at a strike-rate of 175.82, the third-best among the top 50 run-scorers in the competition.
Inglis’ rapid rise
Inglis’ first-ever professional T20 innings came from No.8 for Perth Scorchers in the 2017/18 BBL. In the three innings he got to bat in the entire season, he never batted above No.7. Next season, Inglis was opening the batting and in his final game in four appearances, he reeled off a maiden T20 fifty. By the 2019 season of the BBL, Inglis had made a strong enough impression to become a regular in the Perth side and there was no turning back from there.
In the last two BBL seasons, Inglis has a better strike-rate than most batsmen in the country. Only one other Australian — Chris Lynn — has scored more runs than him at a better strike-rate. He has done so even while switching between an opener and a middle-order batsman. In fact, he has batted in all positions from No.1 to No.5 in the last two BBL seasons.
Such has been his form that Australia greats have already placed him on a pedestal. Ricky Ponting, who has one of the shrewdest eyes as an analyst, recommended him as Australia’s wicketkeeper-batsman – “I really liked what I saw from him batting in the middle order in last summer’s BBL. He plays spin really well and you think about where the World Cup is going to be.”
Shane Warne recently drafted Inglis into his Hundred side and identified him as Australia’s long-term Test wicketkeeper. Aside from the fact that he is a terrific gloveman, Inglis’ batting potential and access to 360 degrees makes him the kind of batsman Australia don’t have enough of in their T20I side.
Why Inglis is perfect for Australia’s T20I side
After 57 T20s, Inglis has 1482 runs at an average of 33.68 and a strike-rate of 153.41. Dig deeper and you get what separates him from the rest of Australia’s batsmen – his performance against spin, in particular against the kind that are usually used as match-up options against right-handers.
Against leg-spinners and left-arm orthodox spinners, both of which turn the ball away from Inglis, the right-hander has strike rates of 157.9 and 153.1. The dot ball percent is below 20 against leg-spinners.
The added bonus is that Australia’s current wicketkeeper batsmen aren’t exactly in form. Matthew Wade has appeared in 17 T20Is since 2020 but averages 22 with a few handy cameos from the top pushing his case. Alex Carey, on the other hand, average nine at a strike-rate less than 100 in his last eight T20Is. Josh Philippe, while highly touted, hasn’t quite hit his straps in international cricket, averaging 14.8 after eight games at a strike-rate of just over 110.
Even if Australia do choose one of the aforementioned keepers, Inglis has a strong case to be in the XI, either at the top alongside David Warner (if Finch doesn’t recover in time) or in the middle order, where his ability to take on spinners will be more than handy.
Since 2020, Australia have played 16 players in T20Is between positions 4 and 7 and only two of them (min. 30 balls faced) boast of a strike-rate greater than 140: Glenn Maxwell (151.1) and Marcus Stoinis (146.5). Stoinis’ struggles against spin are well documented. Mitchell Marsh, who showed excellent form in the T20Is in West Indies, is considered an improved played against spin, but was still dismissed by spin in four out of five innings. In the middle overs (overs 7-16) in T20Is since 2020, Australia score at a rate of 123.86, a far cry from that of New Zealand (151.8) and England (138.5).
Inglis’ intent in the middle, along with his 360-degree batting, makes him the perfect third wheel to Maxwell and Stoinis in the middle overs. He thrived in the No.4 role in the BBL in 2020, smashing 413 runs at a strike-rate of 140.0, with 12 of his 16 knocks coming from the middle-order.
If it’s at the top that Australia have a vacancy, Inglis is perfect for that too. In the powerplay in the group stages of the T20 Blast, Inglis has struck at a rate of 165 with a boundary every 3.4 balls. Given how David Warner has turned into a top-order batsman who bats deep into the innings, Inglis acts as the perfect pair, something Finch used to ace previously, but has struggled to match up to in recent times.
Time is running for Australia to bring in the 26-year old. With their T20 batting looking increasingly unimpressive, Inglis might be the flexible floater that Australia need in their batting line-up, irrespective of how Finch’s injury turns out to be, in the T20 World Cup.
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