A day after England’s capitulation to Scotland the Daily Telegraph Newspaper in Australia ran the headline ‘We’ve had a ball tampering saga, lost our captain and VC, but at least we didn’t lose to Scotland’. The shots had already been fired, at least through the media. The five-match ODI series between England and Australia starting on Wednesday might not have the same relevance as the Ashes, but there is still a feeling of tension as well as anticipation.
It is, after all, a dawn of a new era for Australia. They have a new coach and a new captain. The squad is relatively inexperienced and a majority of the players are still trying to cement a place in the ODI squad on a permanent basis.
But rather than their antics with the willow and the white Kookaburra, a fair amount of attention will be placed on the brand of cricket they play. New captain, Tim Paine has already spoken in volumes about cleaning up the Australian cricket image after the ball tampering saga in March. Paine’s plea for a football style of handshakes pre match has already been accepted by the England captain, Eoin Morgan. But it will be interesting to see how vocal and animated the Australian players will get when the situation gets tense or they fall behind the eight ball.
England will be wary of Australia trying to implement a new image and in all likelihood push them towards the infamous ‘line’ and tempt them to cross it. The parochial home crowd is bound to clear their throats with the word ‘cheats’ and it will be a test of character for some of the Australian players patrolling the boundary ropes during the series.
On the cricketing field, Australia will be looking to fill the voids left by Steve Smith and David Warner. The series presents an excellent opportunity for Travis Head to lock down the opening slot while players such as Marcus Stoinis are widely tipped to be promoted up the order.
While the Australian squad still has the depth to be competitive there is also more of an emphasis on the style of ODI cricket they play in the series. Six months ago, England thrashed the Australians on their home soil 4-1, a loss that resulted in Steve Smith to state “we need to have a strong look at the way we play in this format, teams are probably getting ahead of us and we need to change”.
Smith might not be around during the series, but with flat pitches expected throughout the five ODI’s, there is pressure on the new coach Justin Langer to script a game plan that almost mirrors England’s crash and bang approach from the outset, rather than the traditional approach of conserving wickets at the start and then accelerating at the end.
For Australia to take a new approach they need batting depth and confidence. They need to take the extra risk or two. One man that will have enormous pressure on himself is Glenn Maxwell. The enigmatic all-rounder has been around international cricket for over five years but rarely has he found the consistency to fulfil his talent. Perhaps, if Australia head down on adopting a highly aggressive brand of cricket in this new era, it could be the changing of Maxwell’s fortunes. To be successful in the series Australia need runs from the top order as well as the lower order.
The placid tracks will add additional pressure on the depleted Australian bowling line-up. Apart from Kane Richardson, none of the pace bowlers on tour have played more than 10 matches. They will have their work cut out on the small English grounds against a batting line-up that is capable of posting and chasing totals in excess of 350 on a regular basis. Nathan Lyon returns to the ODI arena, but in an era of wrist spinners, the off-spinner will have to come up with variations otherwise the England batting could slaughter him.
On the other side of the coin, England will be desperate to put the loss against Scotland behind them. The hosts will have sweet memories of dismantling Australia down under only six months ago, but at the same time, there are great concerns over the home side’s bowling unit that conceded 374 runs against Scotland.
Under the Trevor Bayliss regime, the ideology has been ‘we can chase down anything’. Fair to say, given England’s record in recent times the strategy has been highly successful, but there are instances the theory is exposed and with Australia boasting plenty of power-hitters, the England bowlers will be thoroughly tested.
The loss of Ben Stokes and Chris Woakes (at least for the first three games) means England’s team balance is greatly affected. There will be times England will miss the sixth bowling option. One also forgets that Woakes was one of the stars in that England victory down under and his crucial cameos with the bat along with his death bowling were pivotal to England succeeding. The way Moeen Ali and Adil Rasheed bowl against the Australian middle order could well be decisive in the series. Both England spinners were highly successful in Australia and will be looking to work on the visitor’s weakness against spin through the middle overs.
On the contrary, never has the England batting in the limited overs format looked so formidable. Jonny Baristow is in the form of his life, Root gets better with each game and Butler’s finishing makes England a powerhouse.
The series might have a great deal of context, but with the world cup just 12 months away, it is another opportunity for Australia to discover their best line-up and to conjure up a game plan that will bring them success in the 50-over game. For England, it is golden opportunity to keep Australian cricket in the doldrums and at the same time continue to evolve as an ODI unit.