analysis

PETER LALOR: Jake Fraser-McGurk blasting his way into T20 World Cup contention Usman Khawaja says

Peter Lalor
The Nightly
7 Min Read
Jake Fraser-McGurk has been unstoppable in the IPL.
Jake Fraser-McGurk has been unstoppable in the IPL. Credit: ARUN SANKAR/AFP

Australian selectors are praying the centre can hold, that the past is the best guide to the future and that current events at the IPL are an aberration, but there must be nights where they too contemplate Jake Fraser-McGurk’s extraordinary rise and wonder if they have done the right thing.

The kid, playing just his first season and ignored in the early games, has scored three 50s in 20 balls or less.

He scored the last in the days after learning he would not be part of Australia’s T20 World Cup squad.

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No one in the history of the competition has scored that many 50s that fast. Not MS Dhoni, or Virat Kohli, or Glenn Maxwell, or David Warner, or Chris Gayle, or Faf du Plessis, or AB de Villiers, despite all having played for a decade or longer in the tournament.

Cricket’s tended to always be a young man’s sandpit and an old man’s quicksand but his progression - and he is not alone - suggests an evolution, if not a revolution is at hand.

Usman Khawaja is a long way from international T20 cricket these days but has been hired by Prime Video - who will be broadcasting the World Cup in Australia - as an ambassador. He says there is still a way for Fraser-McGurk to book his ticket to the West Indies.

Warner and Maxwell, two of the most exciting cricketers of their era are, by contrast, battling.

Maxwell dropped himself from his Bangalore outfit after making the sum total of 32 in six innings. He has batted once for four runs on return.

Warner hadn’t disgraced himself, he’d got to a half century or near enough twice early in the tournament but had diminishing returns in the four innings before sustaining a serious hand injury.

Warner’s return to the Delhi overnight was disappointing, the Old Bull out for one. His opening partner, Fraser-McGurk, got off the mark for a six and was a chance to post another total before his innings came to an unfortunate end through no fault of his own. The Australian was run out at the non-strikers end for 21 from eight balls when the ball deflected from the bowler’s hand into the stumps.

Maxwell and Warner are critical to Australia’s chances in next month’s T20 World Cup and both seem unlikely to be around for another. Warner certainly will not.

Both have had remarkable careers. Maxwell averages 33.6 in T20 internationals batting in a difficult position at a strike rate of 155, Warner averages 36.9 at a strike rate of 142 - this was once considered to be travelling at warp speed.

Fraser-McGurk scores his runs at a strike rate of 235.87, faster even than Travis Head who is scoring his runs at 201.89.

Not chosen in the auction, called in as a replacement player and not given a chance until after the tournament had started, his momentum was compelling from the beginning. In his third game, against Pat Cummin’s Hydrabad side, he scored 65 runs from 18 balls at a strike rate of 361.

Fraser-McGurk’s coach at Delhi, Ricky Ponting, says bowlers would be getting little sleep if the kid and Travis Head were opening for Australia and expressed surprise the exciting young batter was not in the T20 squad.

“I don’t think he expected to get picked in the squad in the first place,” the former Australian skipper said. “It was only a few weeks ago that he turned up here as a replacement player, and probably the furthest thing from his mind was actually getting a chance to be in that World Cup squad. It’s just been how electrifying he’s been in this IPL. Some of the things he’s done – I think he’s made three 20-ball fifties in this tournament, so he along with Travis Head and Abhishek Sharma have been the stand-out powerplay batsmen in this entire tournament.”

Batting is king at this year’s IPL. Bowlers could not have had a worse time.

There have already been 14 centuries scored in the competition, two more than all of 2023 (12) and four more than than 2021 (8) when the trend began to emerge for the previous 14 seasons. Strike rates in excess of 175 are not uncommon. Young Indian Abhishek Sharma is another motoring along at a strike rate of over 200s.

This tournament has featured sides consistently posting scores of 200 or more.

BRISBANE, AUSTRALIA - JANUARY 23: Usman Khawaja of Australia during a training session at The Gabba on January 23, 2024 in Brisbane, Australia. (Photo by Chris Hyde/Getty Images)
Usman Khawaja has revelaed how Jake Fraser-McGurk could still play in the T20 World Cup. Credit: Chris Hyde/Getty Images

Warner’s former Test opening partner and childhood friend said the T20 game has gone to the next level because of the way the next generation like Fraser-McGurk trains. He said it is frustrating that Fraser-McGurk was not in the World Cup squad.

“I like him, I’d like to have him in the team, he is a gun. He’s a good kid, sometimes these youngsters come along and they carry on an you know they put you off a bit, but I really like Fraser, I really enjoy his company,” he told The Nightly.

“He is an unbelievable talent, the way he hits sixes, the way he hits balls is so good to watch. He makes it look so easy.

“People are saying too many sixes are being hit in the game and I say ‘hold up guys, cricket is just evolving, this is where it is going, we practice six hitting all the time and if you do that you get better at it and there will be more in the game. Particularly on small grounds in India and England, the highest totals are always in those places.

“The change in T20 bating in the last 10 years has been huge. The difference is the kids now are starting off at a young age playing T20 cricket all the time.

“They’ve changed the structures. Junior cricket now is geared more towards T20 cricket than anything else. You get a limited number of balls, kids are reverse sweeping, sweeping, lapping, hitting sixes that is all they’re doing now.

“When we grew up we were hitting the ball along the ground. I guess in some respects we were the pioneers of T20 cricket. We had to learn on the fly.

“Still, I find it bizarre when people hear older commentators say the game the games go backwards or you know back in my day it was better -- that’s never been the case. The game always evolves cricket always gets better, bowlers get better batters get better, they find new techniques that get better. And I think we’re just seeing another evolution of the game now.”

David Warner made way for Jake Fraser-McGurk at the Delhi Capitals and there is a small chance history could repeat at the T20 World Cup.
David Warner made way for Jake Fraser-McGurk at the Delhi Capitals and there is a small chance history could repeat at the T20 World Cup. Credit: Pankaj Nangia/Getty Images

Maxwell was counselled mid-career to not throw the kitchen sink at the first delivery he faced and was encouraged to take 10 balls before getting into gear. Warner, similarly, bats according to circumstance, perhaps too conscious as the senior player that his innings is critical.

Fraser-McGurk and his generation see the ball and smash it.

Aaron Finch defended Maxwell’s approach on a recent edition of ESPN Around the Wicket but acknowledged there’s a shift in the game.

“I think the expectation of the way he plays is one thing and something he loves to live up to as well and be the aggressive player,” the former Australian white ball skipper said. “His numbers are extraordinary, to average 30 at a strike rate of 155 is unbelievable in international cricket.

“At the moment the way the game is going is probably forcing him to be more aggressive in his first two or three balls as opposed to balls seven, eight or nine. It doesn’t sound like much but that is a huge advantage to weigh up conditions and get a handle on what’s happening in the middle.

“He is being forced into making those decisions earlier, I don’t think he is batting badly but he’s not going well and that’s happened before. The 50 over World Cup is a good example of that.”

Fraser-McGurk’s temperament as well as talent has won approval from a number of senior players and at least he appears content to bide his time.

“You’ve got David Warner, our best opener in three formats, you’ve got Travis Head, who is lighting it up over here and has lit it up the past 18 months, and Mitch Marsh is the same, and he’s also the captain,” he said recently.

“I can’t really see myself batting at five or six because we’re pretty set there with Tim David, Cam Green, those sorts of guys. The way I think about it is that’s fine, there’s hopefully going to be more time for that (World Cup appearances).”

Khawaja says it is next to impossible to remove Warner, Head and Mitch Marsh from the top of the order to make way for Fraser-McGurk in the World Cup, but says if there’s an injury to any one he is the first in.

With Marsh’s hamstring taking its time, and Warner’s hand also hindering him, you never know.

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