Tough calls loom ahead of Cup squad deadline

With Australia's World Cup squad due on Thursday, there remains a couple of key decisions to be made

While Australia may face the prospect of losing six straight one-day internationals for the first time in five years, there will be several bigger questions Pat Cummins' side will be seeking answers to in the third ODI against India in Rajkot.

Australia's form heading into next month's 50-over World Cup has been patchy, with a series loss in South Africa followed by another in India.

Injuries have been part of the problem, but the five matches have also exposed issues in the middle-order and their new ball and death bowling.

'X-factor' Maxwell hits the nets in Rajkot

Not since 2018 have Australia lost six ODIs in a row when they lost seven on the trot to England across home and away series and one to South Africa to start the 2018-19 home summer. It's a stark contrast to their run into the previous ODI World Cup when they resurrected that form slump to win eight straight games by beating India (3-2) and Pakistan (5-0).

The five-time champions have had far from a settled side over the past month, with captain Cummins (fractured wrist), Mitchell Starc (groin soreness), Glenn Maxwell (leg soreness) and Steve Smith (wrist) among the key players missing as they recovered from their respective injuries.

Ashton Agar also missed the second and third ODIs in South Africa with soreness before returning home for the birth of his first child and Travis Head will miss at least the first half of the World Cup after suffering a fractured hand in the fourth.

And Spencer Johnson (hamstring) and Nathan Ellis (groin) have also returned home from India, limiting Australia's reserve bowling options for the 45-day tournament.

Johnson receives ODI cap No.243 from fellow leftie Starc

Cummins and Smith returned in the first ODI last Friday in Mohali with Starc and Maxwell expected to play in Wednesday's third match at Saurashtra Cricket Association Stadium in Rajkot.

But whether Australia elect to carry Head – who will be in a cast for five weeks – in their 15-player World Cup touring party despite the possibility he may not play until November is one of several headaches facing national selectors ahead of Thursday's deadline for final squads to be submitted to the ICC.

If Head isn't named, the only way the 29-year-old could come back into the squad after September 28 would be through an injury to another player. The change would also need to be approved by the ICC.

While Australia still has three 50-over matches – including two warm-up games where all 15 squad members can participate – before their World Cup opener against India in Chennai on October 8, Wednesday's third ODI is their final hit-out before the squad deadline.

Despite the recent losses, Starc said the seven games crammed into 19 days had given them an indication of where they wanted to head with their final squad and playing XI.

One of the looming questions is how much of a part will a second spinner play throughout the tournament, and will Agar be match fit having only played four matches since January?

Maxwell's off-spin is another option to fill the second spin overs, but he too is coming off a period on the sidelines due to soreness in the left leg he fractured last year.

"Glenn's … certainly an X-factor for us; he's someone who can really take the game on and his ability with the ball particularly in these conditions adds to the bowling department," Starc said ahead of Wednesday's third ODI, where India could also welcome back captain Rohit Sharma, Virat Kohli, Hardik Pandya and Kuldeep Yadav.

"We've probably seen the wicket change throughout both games, depending on who batted first and second.

"Spin was a massive factor in the second innings the other night (in Indore) and the wicket played pretty well under lights in Mohali.

"There's only one occasion where we play two games at one venue (in the World Cup) so different parts of India are going to throw up different challenges with wickets, conditions, and day and night (games) as well.

"There's a lot of guys with IPL experience so it's just about adapting and using some of that knowledge."

The middle-order is also a concern, with no team featuring in this year's World Cup bowled out in fewer than 40 overs more than Australia's six since the last edition in 2019.

That raises the question of whether Australian selectors' preference to play multiple allrounders in the XI is the right one, or if they need to strengthen the middle-order with the likes of Josh Inglis and Marnus Labuschagne, who is the frontrunner to be included in the final 15 should they opt to replace Head.

"We've had really good starts, we've got off to flyers in a lot of the games and we've just spoken about building those partnerships and making them really long to give our hitters a good crack at it towards the end rather than them having to come in at the 30th over and construct an innings," Inglis said following the first ODI in Mohali.

Australian players take a break from the sweltering conditions at their Rajkot training session on Tuesday // Schonafinger

Australia's batters had a clear intent at training in the baking Gujarat heat on Tuesday afternoon with Maxwell looking in fine touch during an almost hour-long net session.

"Leading into a World Cup it's not a position that we want to be in, is down in a series," Starc said.

"We've still got two opportunities after this game before game one of the World Cup so it's another chance to become accustomed to conditions and to adapt to what's been thrown at us against probably the favourites of the World Cup, so it's a big day for both teams.

"It's a different beast tournament play, so I think you'll see different things to what you've seen in a bilateral series as well."

2023 Qantas Tour of India

September 22: India win by five wickets

September 24: India won by 99 runs (DLS method)

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