Steve Smith's role in T20I line-up a puzzle as Australia's T20 World Cup plans take shape

Australia’s T20I captain Mitchell Marsh confirmed a solid top-order for the upcoming assignment against New Zealand, hinting potential adjustments in the middle order while also casting doubt on Steve Smith's role.

Marsh confirmed that the experienced duo of David Warner and Travis Head would open the batting for them in the three-match T20I series against New Zealand while he would take the No.3 position.

However, while admitting that "our top order is pretty set," Marsh did not confirm their middle-order equation.

"You'll have to find out, we'll announce our team at the toss," Marsh commented on Glenn Maxwell's and Smith's batting positions against New Zealand. "There will be certain guys that probably bat in different positions than they have done in the past, but ultimately we're here to win the series,” he added.

"I've batted (at) three for the last 18 months, so I'll be there to start with. And obviously Heady and Davey Warner have been amazing for us over the last period of time, so I daresay that will be the top three.”

Australia have wicket-keeper batters in Josh Inglis and Matthew Wade to take up the middle-order slots. However, Wade would be unavailable for the start of the New Zealand series due to the birth of his third child and is expected to join the squad for the final two games.

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Meanwhile, in the middle order, Australia also boasts power hitters like Tim David and Maxwell, raising questions about where to position Smith.

“I think players like Tim (David) are a rarity, and it (number six) is probably the hardest role within T20 cricket. We're lucky to have him. He's become a phenomenal player in that role and there's no doubt he's going to play a big part for us,” Marsh admitted.

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Marsh, who hasn't formally succeeded Aaron Finch as Australia's T20I captain, leading them on a series-by-series basis, jokingly expressed anticipation for a chance to assert authority over his Test and ODI skipper Pat Cummins.

"I can't wait to tell him what to do," said Marsh about leading the squad which includes Cummins. "I'm normally filling in for his press conferences when he's had enough, so I'll get him back at some stage.

"But I also feel pretty lucky to have somebody like Pat as another leader within our group to fall back on, and the experienced heads we've got that will help me in certain times throughout this series.”

With the ICC Men’s T20 World Cup 2024 in June fast approaching, Marsh emphasized the significance of having the likes of Cummins, Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazlewood in the T20I mix.

"I just think their experience (Cummins and Starc), certainly at this level and the three of them (with Hazlewood) work together so well. We're lucky to have those guys back. Over the international schedule you don't see those guys play a lot of T20 international cricket together so to have them back and building towards a World Cup is great."

The three-match T20I series in New Zealand begins on Wednesday, 21 February, with the first match scheduled to be played in Wellington while the last two are slated to be played in Auckland.

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