Moises Henriques became an unlikely T20 World Cup candidate while D’Arcy Short again displayed an inability to adapt to international cricket as Australia lost the first T20I to India on Friday.
Only six weeks ago, Henriques’ international career was in deep hibernation. He was 33 years old, hadn’t played for Australia in three years and was no longer really an all-rounder, having rarely bowled at domestic level for several seasons.
In the four years prior to these limited-overs series against India, Henriques played 96 white-ball matches and took an average of just 0.2 wickets per game.
Had he bowled regularly for NSW and the Sydney Sixers in this period, he may well have been in strong contention for international caps in all three formats, given Australia’s endless search for a reliable batting all-rounder.
The lack of competition for this position has allowed Mitch Marsh and Marcus Stoinis to continue representing Australia even amid prolonged form troughs.
It was only injury to both those players that belatedly vaulted Henriques back into the national side and back into his old role as a batsman who bowls. So far, so swell.
Henriques has been highly influential in two of his three appearances against India. In the second ODI, as star quicks Mitchell Starc, Pat Cummins and Josh Hazlewood together were smashed at 7.4 runs an over, Henriques slowed the Indian charge with 1-34 from seven overs. India’s powerful batting line-up was subdued by his gentle array of cutters and slower balls.
Then, in Friday night’s T20I, he was easily Australia’s best player, producing a brilliant all-round performance. First Henriques took 3-22 from four overs as India again found him difficult to attack. Then he played a smooth middle-order innings of 30 from 20 balls, despite being let down by his batting partner Short’s extremely slow scoring.
On the international stage, Short cannot conjure the daring and dynamism that makes him such a dominant BBL batsman. In domestic cricket, he backs his ball-striking ability and bullies bowlers. At the highest level, it is Short who appears intimidated. On Friday night, after a brisk start Short inexplicably scored just 21 from his last 32 deliveries.
In doing so, he released the pressure that had built up on India and heaped it on to his batting partners, like Henriques. Short’s knock of 34 from 38 deliveries greatly hindered Australia. They would have been better off had he been dismissed for a golden duck.
This is nothing new for Short – in T20Is he is consistently scoring at a rate so slow that it hurts his team. In Short’s last ten T20Is he has made 181 runs from 189 balls at the glacial strike rate of 95.
Picked as an aggressive strokeplayer, he is instead channelling late-80s Geoff Marsh. In bowling terms, it’s equivalent to picking an express bowler only to watch them send down Henriques-style cutters at 120 km/h.
While Short’s lack of pace is an issue, Henriques’ slow speeds are a plus. Even the world’s best white-ball batsman Virat Kohli has looked stilted against Henriques’ old-school dibbly-dobblers.
Henriques’ vast experience, calm temperament, cricketing smarts and unrelenting accuracy could just make him an effective limited-overs bowler for Australia if he can stay fit.
A medium-pacer of his style could be especially valuable on the lower, slower pitches in India, which is scheduled to host the T20 World Cup in October and November next year. What makes Henriques most attractive as a white-ball cricketer, however, is his composed and powerful batting.
Henriques’ limited bowling workload over the past four years has gifted him time to hone his batting. The results have been stark.
In that time Henriques has cracked 1111 runs at 53 in List A cricket. During that same four-year period, Henriques also has been solid in the shortest format, with 1482 runs at 32 spread across stints in the BBL, IPL and England’s T20 Blast.
And in the Sheffield Shield, he’s churned out 2642 runs at 42, including eight centuries. Prior to this batting form surge, Henriques was a classic bits-and-pieces player. He was not good enough to play for Australia either as a specialist batsman or as a frontline bowler.
Henriques’ seamers were accurate and frugal, but largely unthreatening, while his batting was little more than handy. Back then, four years ago, he had career batting averages of 31 in first-class cricket, 27 in List A cricket and 23 in T20s.
Now, however, Henriques has returned to the Australian limited-overs setup as a genuine batsman. His stump-to-stump bowling is just a bonus. It is still very early in Henriques’ comeback, but he’s showing signs he could offer Australia another all-rounder option for next year’s T20 World Cup.