Qantas Tour of England - ODIs
Five factors for Australia's ODI series
Strong first steps with wins in Australia's opening two tour games, but there's plenty to ponder ahead of Wednesday's first ODI against England
Dave Middleton in London
10 June 2018, 11:02 AM AEST
Australia are two for two to open their Qantas Tour of the UK having dispatched county opponents Sussex and Middlesex ahead of Wednesday's first ODI against England on Wednesday.
It's been a solid beginning to the Justin Langer era, but there are many questions still to ponder for the Australian cricket team. All will be revealed over the coming five-match series, but the two matches have provided a few clues.
Australia have a lot of top-order batsmen in this squad, but obviously only two can open, and neither of them will be named David Warner. Three batters have opened in the tour games – D'Arcy Short twice, partnering Aaron Finch in the first match against Sussex, and Travis Head against Middlesex in the second.
Short and Finch put on 74 in 10.3 overs against Sussex, until Short fell, trapped on the back foot against spin to be lbw for 21 from 27 balls. He was more aggressive in the second match, blasting 18 from 12 before he fell to a ridiculously good catch at mid-wicket.
Short would seem a lock to start at the top of the order given his BBL form last summer, but the question of who partners him is an interesting one to ponder. The obvious answer may be Finch, but Head's century at Lord's underlined his ability. Head has opened for Australia in five ODIs and averages 58. In the middle order he averages 32.29 from 25 matches.
The other factor is Finch's ability to bat down the order, which he's proven in T20 cricket both for Australia and in the IPL, leading us to…
The middle overs
A key reason for Australia's slip down the ODI pecking order has been an inability to put together consistency in the middle overs of a 50-over game. Fast starts haven't been the problem, and there's enough firepower in the XI to accelerate in the final 10, but putting together solid partnerships at a decent rate of knots remains a problem.
It's something the Australians are acutely aware of; much of their main centre-wicket practice session at Whitgift School to open this tour was based on maximising returns in middle-over scenarios.
In both tour games, the introduction of spin and end of the fielding restrictions after the opening Power Play has brought a significant reduction in the run-rate.
One option for the Aussies might be to slot Finch into the middle order. In two knocks he's hit 78 band 54 and has a stupendous record in white-ball cricket against England, particularly in England. However, in 88 ODIs, Finch has never batted anywhere other than at opener.
As the vice-captain, and most experienced batsman in the team, not to mention as one of the form men, his expertise may be needed elsewhere by this team. Finch also averages 87.5 in ODI cricket over the past year, with 525 runs in six innings against India (away) and England (home).
That old chestnut. What is it about Australia and slow bowling?
At Hove, Sussex's spinners caused Australia's middle order to collapse to the tune of 4-13 in 31 balls. Some of that could be attributed to rust, some to conditions, some to plain old-fashioned good bowling.
At Lord's the second and third wickets fell in consecutive overs, but there was no collapse (with Finch coming in at No.5, who hit 41 of his 54 against spin). In all, the Australians have faced 50 overs of spin in these two matches and scored 7-218, at 4.36 an over.
With England boasting Moeen Ali and Adil Rashid in their one-day squad, the prospect of facing spin isn't going to disappear, and the Aussies will need a solution. Shaun Marsh – a noted player of spin – struck 49 at Lord's batting at No.3 and could well find himself with a spot in the middle order against England.
The Maxwell factor
The 'how to get the best out of Glenn Maxwell' question has been posed often throughout the Victorian's career. On his day he's an undisputed match-winner, but on an off-day, the way he plays can sometimes exaggerate the angst around his wickets.
His dismissal at Hove was poor – a soft chip to mid-off, but in mitigation he appeared to have hit the ground with his bat which checked his shot. And he missed a conventional sweep against the left-arm orthodox of Ravi Patel to be lbw at Lord's, leaving him with scores of 1 and 3 from two innings.
He's been absolutely smashing them in the nets but that hasn't translated into runs in the middle yet, and has been his usual outstanding self in the field. At Hove he turned a rocketed pull-shot into a half chance that would have been fairer to credit with saving three runs than a dropped catch.
It remains to be seen how Langer will manage his most intriguing player, and is one of the more fascinating sub-plots to unfold across all formats in the coming months.
The arrival of Ricky Ponting, who will link up with the squad in London on Sunday, will surely help. Ponting backed Maxwell after a difficult IPL campaign when both were at Delhi, and the two have a close bond. Can Punter get the best out of Maxi?
Bowlers battle and team balance
Bowling was seen as Australia's weak link heading into this tour – and how could it not given the names that are missing: Starc, Cummins, Hazlewood. But in Billy Stanlake they have a bona fide firebrand who can ruffle feathers.
Stanlake caused all sorts of dramas in the T20 tri-series at the back end of the summer and he continues to gain strength and stamina. Kane Richardson, the most experienced ODI bowler in the squad, has continued his happy knack of picking up wickets, and Jhye Richardson has been lightning fast with a wicket in each match.
Michael Neser played both warm-up games – taking the new ball in the first – and the Queenslander is no mere passenger on this tour having been drafted in at the last minute when Hazlewood went down with injury. AJ Tye, fresh from being the leading wicket taker in this year's IPL, was Australia's most economical quick at Hove with 1-28 from eight overs.
The question for Langer and Trevor Hohns, the National Selection Panel chairman who is on this tour, is whether to play four quicks – as they have done in both tour matches – or three and an extra batsman.
Four quicks would allow captain Tim Paine more options against a strong England batting line-up, but may leave Australia short of runs. With scores of 277 and 283 against county opposition, the security of extra firepower may be needed.
Ashton Agar's all-round ability as the spinner of choice, gun fielder and ever-improving batsman has kept Nathan Lyon benched so far this tour. Ten overs from three quicks and Agar leaves the Aussies 10 to make up between Short, Head and Maxwell, or even Finch. Of that quartet, only Short has bowled in the warm-up matches, with 1-16 from three overs. His wicket, that of fellow Aussie Hilton Cartwright at Lord's, came from the first ball of his spell, a half-tracker that Cartwright deposited directly into the hands of long-on.
Possible Australia XI for the first ODI: D'Arcy Short, Travis Head, Marcus Stoinis, Shaun Marsh, Aaron Finch, Glenn Maxwell, Ashton Agar, Tim Paine, Andrew Tye, Jhye Richardson, Billy Stanlake.
Qantas tours of England and Zimbabwe
ODI squad: Tim Paine (c), Aaron Finch (vc), Ashton Agar, Alex Carey, Travis Head, Nathan Lyon, Glenn Maxwell, Shaun Marsh, Michael Neser, Jhye Richardson, Kane Richardson, D'Arcy Short, Billy Stanlake, Marcus Stoinis, Andrew Tye
England ODI squad: Eoin Morgan (c), Moeen Ali, Jonny Bairstow, Jake Ball, Sam Billings, Jos Buttler, Tom Curran, Alex Hales, Liam Plunkett, Adil Rashid, Joe Root, Jason Roy, Ben Stokes (injured), David Willey, Chris Woakes (injured), Mark Wood
T20 squad: Aaron Finch (c), Alex Carey (vc), Ashton Agar, Travis Head, Nic Maddinson, Glenn Maxwell, Jhye Richardson, Kane Richardson, D'Arcy Short, Billy Stanlake, Marcus Stoinis, Mitchell Swepson, Andrew Tye, Jack Wildermuth
Qantas Tour of England
June 13: First ODI, The Oval (D/N)
June 16: Second ODI, Cardiff
June 19: Third ODI, Trent Bridge (D/N)
June 21: Fourth ODI, Durham (D/N)
June 24: Fifth ODI, Old Trafford
June 27: Only T20, Edgbaston (D/N)
Qantas T20I tri-series Tour of Zimbabwe
July 1: Zimbabwe vs Pakistan
July 2: Pakistan vs Australia
July 3: Australia vs Zimbabwe
July 4: Zimbabwe vs Pakistan
July 5: Pakistan vs Australia
July 6: Australia vs Zimbabwe
July 8: Final