In less than six weeks Australia’s men’s cricket team will return to the field with possibly every spot in the XI up for grabs.
Australia face England at The Oval in the first of five one-day internationals on June 13 with a new coach, captain and a vastly different line-up that last competed in the 50-over game back in January following the events in Cape Town.
For starters, the ODI XI will be without their two batting titans and leaders Steve Smith and David Warner after the pair were suspended for 12 months for their involvement in the ball-tampering scandal.
It’s unknown whether key fast bowlers Mitchell Starc and Pat Cummins are available for selection due to injury – both were ruled out of the Indian Premier League with leg and back issues, respectively.
And allrounder Mitchell Marsh will miss the ODI series as he rehabs a surgically repaired ankle with an aim to be fit for the start of the blockbuster 2018-19 summer.
That’s up to five certain starters potentially ruled out of the three-week campaign, leaving Australia’s national selection panel to find their replacements with the 2019 World Cup in the UK less than 13 months away.
Starting from the top of the order, it appears likely a fully-fit Aaron Finch will replace Warner.
Finch missed the final two one-dayers against England last summer with a calf injury having peeled off scores of 107, 106 and 62 in the opening three fixtures.
Following the suspensions of Smith and Warner, Finch is now one of Australia’s most experienced and available ODI players with 88 matches under his belt, a further reason why the selectors won’t hesitate to rush the powerful opener back into the team.
While the decision to recall Finch is an easy one for the selectors, it gets tougher finding a partner for the Victorian with international experience at the top.
Since the 2015 World Cup, only Usman Khawaja (nine innings), Joe Burns (six) and Travis Head (five) have opened the batting at least five times for their country.
Khawaja’s nine innings were over a 12-month span from February 2016 to January 2017 but the elegant left-hander couldn’t displace Finch as Warner’s preferred partner.
Burns opened the batting in all five matches in the corresponding series in 2015, but after 69 on debut in the preceding fixture against Ireland, his scores grew progressively fewer and he was dropped for Australia's next one-day series.
Head opened up alongside Warner in Finch’s absence against England last summer and scored 96 in Adelaide to take his opening record to 290 runs in five innings with a high score of 128.
The South Australian has spent most of his 34-match ODI career in the middle order but he could find himself taking on the new ball while Warner serves his ban on the sidelines.
Positions 3-7 in the batting order could prove the most difficult to juggle.
With no Smith or Marsh, the balance of the middle-order is thrown out of whack.
In the five-match series against England last season, which Australia lost 4-1, the middle order chopped and changed each match due to form and injury.
Smith, Cameron White and Marcus Stoinis batted at No.3, with the Western Australian’s 87 in the final match at Perth Stadium perhaps enough to keep him at first-drop.
Smith was the innings anchor at No.4 tasked with ticking the scoreboard over until the closing stages when Australia’s power hitters could enter the fray with a license to swing from ball one.
But with Smith out of action, Australia need a player who can weather the loss of early wickets, bat deep into the innings and attempt to replicate the right-hander’s prolific run-scoring.
Tasmania’s George Bailey is second on the list, behind Smith, for most middle-order runs for Australia since their World Cup triumph on home soil, but the Tasmanian hasn’t played an ODI since December 2016.
In his favour is Bailey’s experience (90 ODIs) and the glut of 50-over runs he’s scored at domestic level, averaging 69 in one-day cricket last year for English county Hampshire and Tasmania.
But if Bailey’s time is up at international level, the middle-order anchor role could be left to White, Glenn Maxwell, Peter Handscomb or Moises Henriques, players who have all featured in the ODI engine room in the past 18 months.
Queenslander Chris Lynn is one player likely to come into the reckoning now that he’s back playing after recovering from a shoulder setback.
The 28-year-old was named as part of Australia’s ODI squad last summer before he was struck down with a calf injury, and is firmly in Australia’s plans for the 2019 World Cup.
The wicketkeeper spot appears to be between Test captain Tim Paine and Alex Carey, the South Australian gloveman who has been endorsed by legend Adam Gilchrist to be the ODI keeper.
Paine was installed as Matthew Wade’s successor for the England series on home soil but was replaced by Carey when he left the side for personal reasons.
He returned for the end of the series but Carey did not put a foot wrong in his one match with the gloves.
The left-handed stroke-maker is a versatile prospect, a batter who can open the innings and take advantage of the field being up like he has done with Adelaide Strikers in the KFC Big Bash League or come in later in the innings and target the boundary.
Should Australia go down that path and pick Carey to take on the new ball, it could allow Head to slot back into the middle order and the selectors to play another batsman/allrounder.
If all fit, it would be hard not to see Starc, Cummins and Josh Hazlewood featuring in the final XI, with Western Australia’s Andrew Tye right in the frame to retain his position after a stunning start to his ODI career.
In four matches, the right-armer has captured eight wickets including 5-46 in Perth as his reputation as one of the world’s premier limited-overs bowlers goes from strength to strength.
Cricket Australia is confident towering quick Billy Stanlake will be fit for the England tour after breaking his finger in the IPL, while WA’s Jhye Richardson is also in the mix after making his ODI debut last summer.
Ashton Agar is the frontrunner to be the specialist spinner given leggie Adam Zampa was not given a CA contract for the upcoming summer.
Agar, who’s proven dynamic with his left-arm spin and lower-order batting, played a key role in Australia’s T20 tri-series win at the back-end of the international summer.
As for who will lead the team, Finch and Paine are the prime contenders.
Paine is a safe choice given he’s taken over the role in the Test team, while Finch has captained Australia twice in ODI cricket, against New Zealand in 2017.
With Australia’s coach set to be named in the coming weeks, the ODI squad for England is expected to follow shortly after.