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Aussies must sort themselves out

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Australia_England_ODI_Cricket_problemsA year ago, not in their wildest dreams would Australia have imagined that they would be heading to England in June with a depleted team, a newbie skipper, a handful of inexperienced batsmen and absolutely zilch plans whatsoever for the looming World Cup.

With Steven Smith and David Warner out for a year and all three of their senior pace bowlers - Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood and Pat Cummins - injured, most of the touring party would hardly have expected to get up from their couches during the month. Yet here they are, getting ready to play not just the no.1 ODI side, but also possibly fighting for a World Cup berth.

With the five match series’ original aim being to prepare the visitors for the upcoming World Cup, Australia will need to revisit their goals. The World Cup seems light years away for the Aussies, who are largely undecided on the majority of their personnel. Here we put together a list of possible goals they might want to achieve from the series.

The right skipper?

First things first. The skipper for the current series is Tim Paine, but truth be told, he wasn't even a first choice in the ODI side a few months ago. New head coach Justin Langer favors Mitchell Marsh, but the all-rounder is out injured, which means Paine will get first chance to impress the selectors and management. He already managed to ease his way through the ball-tampering saga with his on-field gestures in South Africa, but in ODIs his batting could also come under focus.

The England series should help them confirm if they have the right man to lead them to the World Cup. How they utilize Paine's abilities at the top of the order could also be interesting. He was an opener in his first stint for the national team but languishes at 7 these days. However, with Warner unavailable for the time being (he could return for the World Cup), Australia might ponder opening with Paine and Finch.

The Steven Smith void batting-wise

Forget captaincy, Australia's biggest challenge would be to replace the mountain of runs that Steve Smith racks up from no.3. Although not as big a force in ODIs as in Tests, Smith's ability to be the fulcrum of the team will be sorely missed in the next few months. Unlike Warner, Smith is almost certain to return to the national team by the World Cup but Australia cannot afford to sit and hope he will retain his magic touch 10 months from now.

The potential candidate to replace him in the current squad includes the experienced Shaun Marsh, who is among Langer's favorites, Travis Head, a fine all-round option, and the unpredictable Glenn Maxwell. However, it was the unlikely Marcus Stoinis who not only came in at 3 but also smashed a superb hundred in the first warm-up against Sussex. It is uncertain, though, if Australia do consider him as a permanent option at that position. By the end of the series, there ought to be better clarity regarding his role.

The fast bowling circle

Possibly no other team had better prepared for a mass exit of fast bowlers than Australia. They had tried innumerable seam bowling options in the past two years and all came in handy when Mitchell Starc, Pat Cummins and Josh Hazlewood fell down in a heap ahead of the ODI series. Although all of them could return for the World Cup, an injury threat to one of them is a real possibility. Australia ought to be prepared for such a crisis and this leaves them with the task of identifying the right back-up bowlers.

The current squad includes the dibbly dobbly Michael Neser, Kane Richardson, Andrew Tye, Jhye Richardson and Billy Stanlake. Marcus Stoinis is another all-rounder who can bowl a few overs of seam-up stuff. Only two of the core fast bowlers are likely to make the World Cup squad. The battle could be intense between Tye, the two Richardsons and Stanlake.

Tye has an edge following his IPL exploits and his economical bowling at the death but Stanlake offers a more well rounded option. That said, Kane Richardson, despite his mediocre numbers, is the most experienced among the four and could lead the bowling unit this series. An exciting battle for the remaining World Cup slots starts here.

Nathan Lyon is going to the World Cup?

Perhaps the most obvious, yet not implemented, move in the recent past in Australia's limited-overs team is the inclusion of their Test veteran, Nathan Lyon. A smart, traditional off-spinner with the ability to turn the ball square, Lyon's sole disadvantage is that he belongs to a class of bowlers widely underused in modern day limited-overs cricket.

The off-spinner, though, remains Australia's best bet to getting 10 steady overs from a spinner. Adam Zampa does not seem to be in Australia's plans anymore while Ashton Agar’s all-round ability poses a threat. The outside contender is leggie Mitchell Swepson, who is part of the T20 squad. The England ODIs could make or break Lyon's World Cup hopes.

 

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