Cup tilt begins with Aussies out to fix middling returns

Encouraging signs for side seeking middle-order runs as Steve Smith bats for nearly two hours in first hit-out in India ahead of three-game ODI series and World Cup

As the sun set on Australia's first training run in India to begin their two-month World Cup sojourn, the signs their campaign was back on track after three crushing defeats to end their South African tour were starting to emerge.

With the injury toll mounting amid a lengthy tournament lead in, the peaceful practice facilities at the back Mohali's picturesque Punjab Cricket Association Stadium in northern India – away from the typical hustle and bustle of the country's metropolitan regions – presented the perfect place for a few of Australia's stars to quietly return to the fold.

Australia hit the training nets in Mohali for the first time on their Indian tour on Wednesday // cricket.com.au

Captain Pat Cummins charged in off the long run to Marnus Labuschagne while pace partner Mitchell Starc walked laps of the venue bouncing an Aussie Rules Sherrin on the carpet-like outfield as the floodlights came on and the temperature dropped from a steamy mid-afternoon high of 34C.

But the sight of Steve Smith batting unimpeded for near on two hours was the most encouraging sign for an Australian side looking to solve their recent middle-order woes in one-day cricket.

Since the 2019 ODI World Cup, no team featuring in this year's edition of the 50-over showpiece has been bowled out more times in fewer than 40 overs than Australia, with Sri Lanka the only nation to equal the Aussies' five.

That's despite (or possibly because of) them having the highest strike rate (92.51) and best balls-per-boundary percentage (7.33) of all men's ODI teams during the 10-over powerplay in the past four years.

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Three of those five collapses inside 40 overs have come in their last three ODIs where Australia were dismissed in the 35th over on each occasion in defeats of 111, 164 and 122 runs respectively, as South Africa claimed the series 3-2 after trailing 0-2.

Even in the second match of the series that Australia won by 123 runs, they lost 5-26 after reaching 3-343 in the 43rd over.

Of their opponents at next month's World Cup, only India (215), who have played 21 more ODI matches, Sri Lanka (199) and Bangladesh (179), who have both played eight more matches, have lost more middle overs (11-40) wickets than Australia's 166.

Marnus Labuschagne hit a century and a match-winning 80no in the opening two ODIs against South Africa // cricket.com.au

"You've always got to strike that balance over the 50 overs," Australia head coach Andrew McDonald said after the fifth ODI in South Africa.

"We can't afford to expose our lower-order hitters at six and seven where we do have some good power too early. 

"And that happened a little bit too often in this series and it's something that we need to tighten up.

"We've got some personnel that will come back in that no doubt can assist in that space, but you can't win too many games of cricket if you're getting exposed four or five down before the halfway mark of the innings."

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One of those personnel changes will be Smith returning from a wrist injury suffered during the Ashes that sidelined him for their entire South African tour.

The star right-hander told cricket.com.au he felt good after his extended hit-out that started in the baking afternoon sun and finished under lights.

"I'm pretty cooked to be honest, it's very hot out here," he said. "I got a good sweat on but it was nice to spend some time in the nets.

"I faced Patty (Cummins) for a bit, felt good against him, faced quite a bit of spin and lots on the 'wanger', so it's a good start."

Alongside the in-form Marnus Labuschagne (918 runs) – who hit a century and match-winning 80no in the opening two ODIs against South Africa – the pair have been Australia's most productive batters in the middle-over period (overs 11-40) with Smith's 792 runs coming at a slightly faster rate of 91.77 runs per 100 balls faced than Labuschagne's 85.55.

Wicketkeeper Alex Carey (749 runs striking at 84.16) and opener David Warner (645 runs striking at 96.70) round out the bulk of Australia's runs in the middle over the past four years with other contributors few and far between.

Marcus Stoinis for instance hasn't reached 50 in 19 innings since the last ODI World Cup, Josh Inglis (99 runs in six innings) has struggled to find a rhythm when given an opportunity and Glenn Maxwell rejoins the Aussie squad this series without a half-century in his past 10 one-day innings.

With McDonald flagging Labuschagne as a likely inclusion to the 15-player World Cup squad should they need to replace the injured Travis Head, Australia's three-match series against India beginning in Mohali on Friday presents an opportunity to test a team structure with both him and Smith in it.

Smith, who needed a cortisone injection to get through the Ashes, spent time in a wrist brace following his return from England and revealed he needed another injection to help return to full fitness.

"(I was) doing quite a bit of fitness, lots of running, I was still able to do that when I had the brace on," he said.

"When I got the brace off there was not a lot of change (with the injury) so I had a little injection and I feel a million bucks now.

"Probably a few days after I had the needle, I started to feel good. I was a bit wary (today) with a bit of catching and landing, so the first few I was just easing into it but it feels good so I'm ready to go."

2023 Qantas Tour of India

September 22: First ODI, Mohali (D/N), 6pm AEST

September 24: Second ODI, Indore (D/N), 6pm AEST

September 27: Third ODI, Rajkot (D/N), 6pm AEST

Australia ODI squad: Pat Cummins (c), Sean Abbott, Alex Carey, Nathan Ellis, Cameron Green, Aaron Hardie, Josh Hazlewood, Josh Inglis, Spencer Johnson, Marnus Labuschagne, Mitchell Marsh, Glenn Maxwell, Tanveer Sangha, Matt Short, Steve Smith, Mitchell Starc, Marcus Stoinis, David Warner, Adam Zampa

India squad for first two ODIs: KL Rahul (c), Ravindra Jadeja, Ruturaj Gaikwad, Shubman Gill, Shreyas Iyer, Suryakumar Yadav, Tilak Varma, Ishan Kishan , Shardul Thakur, Washington Sundar, R Ashwin, Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammed Shami, Mohammed Siraj, Prasidh Krishna

India squad for the third ODI: Rohit Sharma (c), Hardik Pandya, Shubman Gill, Virat Kohli, Shreyas Iyer, Suryakumar Yadav, KL Rahul, Ishan Kishan, Ravindra Jadeja, Shardul Thakur, Axar Patel, Washington Sundar, Kuldeep Yadav, R Ashwin, Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammed Shami, Mohammed Siraj