ICC Men's ODI World Cup 2019
Battle for berths a result of ODI revival
The assumption that Steve Smith and David Warner would walk back into the ODI team has been markedly revised after a stunning series win in India
15 March 2019, 06:00 AM AEST
As Steve Smith and David Warner prepare for a flying visit to Dubai to fleetingly rejoin Australia's triumphant ODI outfit, they received a graphic reminder of the job they face to reclaim places in the starting XI.
The former captain and his deputy, whose 12-month bans from top-level cricket expire in less than a fortnight, will meet up with former teammates and new members of the national men's team (including coach Justin Langer) for the first time since the sandpaper scandal in South Africa.
The meeting, which is expected to last no more than a few hours, is part of the pair's carefully planned integration back into the Australia set-up ahead of the ICC World Cup that begins in the UK in late May.
However, the assumption that the star duo would walk back into the ODI team – a premise that gained traction as Australia lost nine of their 11 ODI matches in the immediate aftermath of their bans – has been markedly revised after the team's series win in India.
And there is no clearer illustration of that changed dynamic than the decision by Australia's selectors to omit Shaun Marsh – by far Australia's best-performed ODI batter during that recent lean stretch – from their line-up for last Wednesday's decider against India at New Delhi.
The fact that the tourists accounted for the world's second-ranked ODI team on their home turf without a player who had been among the first chosen in previous months reflects the scope of the assignment facing Smith and Warner.
Neither of them have played a one-day international since 28 January last year (against England in Perth), and their preparation for the World Cup will be restricted to the T20 format for their respective franchises in the Indian Premier League.
In the wake of his team's historic 3-2 ODI series win over India this week, Langer noted that Marsh remained a key factor in Australia's World Cup planning but admitted that the intense rivalry for places "has always been a paradox of the team".
"That's been the cornerstone of Australian cricket for a long time, intense competition," Langer said before his team flew to the UAE to prepare for the five-match ODI series against Pakistan starting next week.
"If we left out Shaun Marsh, who's got four hundreds in his last 12 ODI innings, that's saying something.
"It was tough that he came off the back of a hamstring injury (sustained during the KFC Big Bash League), and it's always tough coming into India fresh when the boys have been training hard and playing a lot here.
"So he missed out a few times, but he's a gun player and a really important part of the team (and) I'm sure he'll get some opportunities (against) Pakistan.
"Sometimes it's hard to fit 12 into 11."
With competition for World Cup places so intense, Smith and Warner will have limited opportunities to show they have made the adjustment to international-standard competition before April 23, when all competing teams must submit their 15-man Cup squads to the ICC.
But Langer said he will be keeping a keen eye on their performances in the IPL, as well as those of other Australia World Cup hopefuls including Andrew Tye, Moises Henriques and hero of Australia's stunning recent win over India at Mohali, Ashton Turner.
The national men's team coach is also eagerly awaiting the upcoming visit to Dubai by Smith and Warner, before they begin their return to big-time cricket in India.
"It's going to be really good to see them, we're all looking forward to catching up," Langer said.
"We know they're world-class players, so looking forward to seeing them in a few days' time.
"As I've said consistently through the summer, this is just part of the process.
"It's a perfect opportunity to get us all together, talk about some of our plans for the World Cup, keep reiterating the messages of our game plan on the field, keep reiterating the message about what's important for us as a group off the field.
"Because they go hand in hand."
Langer admits the conundrum facing him and his fellow selectors (Trevor Hohns and Greg Chappell) about the make-up of Australia's World Cup squad – as well as the Australia A and Ashes outfits also heading to the UK this year – is already disrupting his sleep.
On the eve of the ODI series decider against India, he began jotting possible squads for all three tours into his daily journal shortly before heading to bed around 11.30pm, only to wake up barely four hours later with his mind still spinning at the possibilities.
The week-long break between arriving in Dubai and the opening match of the Qantas Tour of the UAE against Pakistan in Sharjah a week later will allow the coach, his players and staff a chance to relax and recharge after a hectic southern summer schedule.
His first home season as Australia coach also brought some harsh learnings for Langer, particularly during the Christmas-New Year period when his team was being soundly outplayed by Virat Kohli's India and a cacophony of outside noise began to cloud his thinking.
Langer has found the past few weeks in India, where the demands on his time and his attention have not been as intense as they were in Australia, a welcome chance to reflect and implement some important changes.
"As a player, I was constantly learning lessons and I look back at Christmas and New Year just gone, and see that as a real catalyst to my coaching career," he said.
"It was a really tough time, we were playing hard cricket against India and like as a player, I learned invaluable lessons from that - how I had to get better, things that I had to do to go forward for myself and for the team.
"One thing is, you've got to have some time for yourself, otherwise your mind never turns off.
"It's nice in India, you get a lot of time to yourself.
"Having some really good people around, and having some fresh faces here has been great.
"I also think letting go of things that are out of your control is really important.
"As a coach, when you first come in – and it was no different to when I started in Western Australia – you want to get your hands into every single thing that's going on.
"It's because you want to get a grasp of everything, but then you've got to work out where the big rocks are as well.
"If I put all my attention into the high priority things within the team, then I'll be better for it, the team will be better for it and we'll keep moving forward."
Australia's World Cup fixtures
May 25: (warm-up) England v Australia, Southampton
May 27: (warm-up) Australia v Sri Lanka, Southampton
June 9: India v Australia, The Oval
June 12: Australia v Pakistan, Taunton
June 15: Sri Lanka v Australia, The Oval
June 20: Australia v Bangladesh, Trent Bridge
June 25: England v Australia, Lord's
July 9: Semi-Final 1, Old Trafford
July 11: Semi-Final 2, Edgbaston
July 14: Final, Lord's
For a full list of all World Cup fixtures, click HERE