‘Middle-order role one of the toughest in T20 cricket’ – Jonathan Wells
He has been compared to Michael Bevan. There are growing calls for him to be given a spot in Australia’s T20I middle order. But Jonathan Wells is focused on the here and now, continuing his prolific form in “one of the toughest roles” in T20 cricket and helping the Adelaide Strikers towards the Big Bash final.
His top line numbers are outstanding: 444 runs in the regular season at 74.00 and a strike-rate of 136.19. The majority of his 13 innings have been at No.5, while those around him in the leading-scorers list are ones who occupy the top three positions and therefore the chance to face the most balls.
At the Adelaide Strikers, that luxury goes to Jake Weatherald and Phil Salt followed by Travis Head and Alex Carey when not on Australia duty, with Wells occasionally moving up a spot when one is absent. He usually has to wait, knowing there are a whole range of situations where he could be called upon but in most of them he won’t have much time.
“I think if you ask any batsman what their preference would be they probably say the top three, purely on the numbers, you have the opportunity to face as many balls as you can, also having fielding restrictions,” Wells told ESPNcricinfo. “The actual middle-order role is one of the toughest in T20 cricket and I think it’s a bit of a niche position where not everyone can do it. I think a lot of players could go up the top and do a similar type of job, but through the middle if you can nail that position then it’s very good for a team to have someone in that position they can rely on and can play a few different scenarios.”
This isn’t the first season Wells has impressed in the position. In the 2018-19 BBL, he scored 359 runs meaning in the last two campaigns he currently tallies 803 at 57.35 – of batsmen to have at least 25 innings across all T20s since the start of last season’s BBL, only David Warner (70.70) and Manish Pandey (57.73) have a better average. Overall he is the sixth-highest scorer in the tournament’s history. Once again, the only ones around him are players who have largely forged their careers batting one to four.
“Last season was a good season and I was happy with how I played but then I probably have come back a better player this year,” Wells said. “I think that’s really important, to keep adapting and evolving. Teams have a lot of footage and analysis on you these days to try and get a step ahead of the game and you have to keep adapting to counter that and I feel like I have improved this year. The consistency this year has probably been the notable difference which is the challenge in that role in T20.”
However, it’s a deeper drill down into Wells’ numbers which really show how he has become so proficient at his role that he is being compared to one of the game’s great finishers. Dot-ball percentage may not sound like the most glamorous of stats, but for a batsman in Wells’ position it is a vital element of the game. For the opposition, dot balls are like gold dust.
Going back to the start of 2013, no batsman in any T20 league around the world (who has faced a minimum 300 balls in the competition) has a lower dot-ball percentage than Wells in this season’s BBL: 23%.
“Definitely it’s a focus of mine to limit those dot balls,” Wells said. “It’s really important from a partnership point of view to not build pressure on the batsman who is in. Generally coming in the middle order there’s a batsman who has hopefully been there a bit longer and is hitting the ball alright so to just get them back on strike.
“It’s a big part of my game and if I’m not being able to find the fence, then I am getting up the other end. I probably don’t have the power game that some of the other guys do that bat in those positions, but I’ve just had to find a way to make it work for myself and that’s revolved around not getting stuck on strike.
“I like to have a few options, I’ve got a few zones I prefer to go to and that depends on the opposition, the field set and the wicket you are playing on. The planning side of it is something I do spend a bit of time on, my preparation and planning holds me in really good stead to be able to go out there and play with a clear mind.”
So what of the comparisons being made?
“I personally don’t think I’m anywhere near but it’s nice to be compared a little bit in the way I go about it, they were obviously ultra-consistent and really good finishers in white-ball cricket. That’s something I’m aspiring towards. When you go to the crease, that your team has confidence that you will get the job done, knowing the boys in the sheds have the confidence that no matter what the situation that I can get the job done.”
There is a T20 World Cup on home soil later this year. This summer, Australia’s T20I side would have won all six matches against Sri Lanka and Pakistan if not for rain in Sydney, but that does not mean there isn’t time for things to change – especially in the middle order.
“I’m not reading much into it,” he said. “That word expectation, I’m not trying to put any on myself or added pressure. I’m just having a lot of fun playing for the Strikers. There are different articles that you do see, but I’m trying to just focus on what I can control which is the next game for the Strikers. We have an important game on Saturday in a knockout final so not thinking past that.”
Having ended third in the BBL table, the Strikers will have to win three games in a row to take the title. That starts with the Sydney Thunder at the Adelaide Oval on Saturday. Do not be surprised if, whether batting first or second, Wells is there getting the job done.