Tim David looms large in Australia’s plans despite Sri Lanka absence

Tim David looms large in Australia's plans despite Sri Lanka absence

Every T20 team in the world right now wants Tim David. Every team it seems, except Australia.

To be fair to Australia’s selectors, the world’s most in-form power-hitter is front and centre on their radar and chair George Bailey has been in contact with him. But they are wrangling with how and when to fit him into a side that are the defending T20 World Cup champions.

As Australia’s T20I side congregated in Sri Lanka on Wednesday night ahead of a three-match series starting next Tuesday, David remained in England representing Lancashire where he is dominating the Vitality Blast.

Australia have picked a near full-strength squad for Sri Lanka, with only Pat Cummins (rested) and Adam Zampa (paternity leave) missing from the side that won the T20 World Cup. It is the first time they have assembled a near full-strength unit since the World Cup last year after resting a number of key players for the five-match home T20I series against Sri Lanka in February and the limited-overs tour of Pakistan in March and April.

By every conceivable measure, David should be among them. Since the start of 2021, he has made 1413 runs in T20 cricket, averaging 32.11, at an absurd strike-rate of 170.65 (*stats as of Wednesday June 1), playing almost exclusively as a finisher.

In the same period, Glenn Maxwell has scored 1777 runs at 32.90 with a strike-rate of 149.57 while the prolific Mitchell Marsh has scored 1432 runs at 40.91, and a strike-rate of 138.09, albeit batting exclusively at No. 3. Marcus Stoinis, who is currently Australia’s T20 finisher, made 1048 runs at 30.82 with a strike-rate of 143.75, although he batted in the top three in 15 of his 49 innings. Globally, since the start of 2021, only New Zealander Finn Allen has a higher strike-rate than David of those who have faced more than 500 balls.

That the selectors baulked at adding David to the Sri Lanka squad was understandable. Australia announced their touring squads back on April 29. Even Mumbai Indians, who had invested $US 1.1 million (AUD 1.53 million) in David at the IPL mega auction, decided not to select him for six games between April 2 and April 30 after he missed out in the first two matches of the tournament.

While David had monstered bowling in Associate cricket for Singapore, as well as the BBL, the PSL, the Blast, the Hundred and the CPL, there was a still a slight query, rightly or wrongly, over his ability against world-class attacks and spin in particular. But even then he ranks in top eight in the world for strike-rate against spin in the last 18 months.

But when Mumbai finally realised the error of their ways, having lost all six games David didn’t play, he showcased his full capabilities in the final six matches of the season smashing 173 runs at an astronomical strike-rate of 230.66, to help Mumbai win four of them. He struck a boundary every 2.78 deliveries and a six every five balls.

It was power-hitting that only Kieron Pollard and Andre Russell can match. Even more impressively, it was easy power, from a stable base, with the ability to go off side, straight or leg side. And all against international quality bowling. Neither Mohammed Shami, Lockie Ferguson, Yuzvendra Chahal, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, T Natarajan, Anrich Nortje or Shardul Thakur were spared from disappearing to and over the rope.

Australia captain Aaron Finch admitted David is building a case that is hard to ignore.

“He’s been in fantastic form for a while now,” he said. “The back end of the IPL was fantastic for him. He was at his brutal best. The ability to hit from ball one is a pretty rare skill. And he’s done that plenty of times now and for him to keep being so consistent, that’s something that we’ll definitely look at over the next little while.”

David’s consistency, in arguably the most volatile role in T20 cricket, has been remarkable. He’s reached double figures in 18 of his last 20 T20 innings and stuck at above 140 in all 17 of those knocks, and above 175 in 13 of them. (*As of June 1)

Australia have been searching for a specialist power-hitting finisher for years. Now, one has arrived on their doorstep and they are struggling to fit him in.

Any question surrounding David’s allegiance to Australia need not be a concern. He was born in Singapore and has played 14 T20Is for them but he is an Australian citizen, having grown up in Perth and spent far more of his youth in Australia than other recent internationals in Marnus Labuschagne and Josh Inglis. The notion that he has turned his back on the Australian system is also a misnomer, having been contracted by Western Australia before being discarded aged 23 and forced to look for opportunities elsewhere.

He also wouldn’t be the only player without a state contract to play for Australia if selected, with Chris Lynn, AJ Tye and Dan Christian all doing so in recent times. David did play in the Marsh Cup for Tasmania last summer.

The only question is when and how David can break into the side. The earliest opportunity he could play would be a T20I series in India in September, where some senior players might be rested and he has proven himself in the conditions but that is barely a month before the World Cup.

Fitting him into a stable set-up for the World Cup is another debate. He is a specialist finisher, with those roles currently occupied by semi-final heroes Stoinis and Matthew Wade. Both of those men fill dual roles and would not be like-for-like swaps for David. Wade also keeps wicket (and provides a left-handed option) while Stoinis is one of three allrounders who provide vital bowling flexibility, given Australia have settled on playing just four specialist bowlers alongside seven batters.

David would have to play as a specialist batter, with his very part-time offspin unlikely to be used at international level. But his presence would change the dynamic of the order. If he replaced Steven Smith, for example, it would deepen the power-hitting at the expense of a versatile role player who could be promoted or demoted up and down the order depending on situations, although both Wade or Stoinis have the experience to fill a versatile role further up the order.

The only other scenarios are if injury or form prevents one of the top four from playing. But Australia are intent on sticking with their skipper Finch, who is in the midst of a lengthy lean patch, while David Warner, Marsh and Maxwell are locked in.

Where there is a will, there is a way. Australia’s selectors would have to be willing to pick a T20 specialist, something previous panels have rarely done.

David possesses the rarest of skillsets. Australia know they need to improve their side to defend their title. On present form, David could make them a goliath.

Alex Malcolm is an Associate Editor at ESPNcricinfo

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