There are six ODIs over the next couple of weeks, starting with the three against Zimbabwe in Townsville followed by three against New Zealand in Cairns, for Australia to further hone their plans in the format.
For a cricketer of the quality of Sean Abbott, 13 international appearances since a debut in 2014 is scant reward. Injury has not always been kind to him – his recent tour to Sri Lanka was ended before it started due to a broken finger – and as a pace bowler (and pace-bowling allrounder) he is in a skillset where Australia are well served. But with Pat Cummins rested from these two series and six matches in quick succession it would be a surprise if there wasn’t an opportunity for him at some stage. He was in the side for the three games against Pakistan earlier this year where he had stronger returns with the bat than ball in what were tough conditions for pace bowlers. He enters this series on the back of a useful spell for Manchester Originals at the Hundred which included a return of 4 for 8 where he became the first bowler to complete two maiden sets of five balls in the men’s competition.
Abbott is also part of a wider debate about the balance of Australia’s one-day side. Ahead of next year’s World Cup there is a move to lengthen the batting at the expense of another specialist bowler. In the six matches Cameron Green has played this year he has batted at Nos. 7 and 8, effectively becoming one of three quick bowlers alongside whichever pair of specialists is selected. He took the new ball during the series against Pakistan although was sparingly used against Sri Lanka given conditions. Australia are trying to work out if the combined overs from the likes of Green, Glenn Maxwell, Mitchell Marsh, Marcus Stoinis and Marnus Labuschagne give them enough bowling depth alongside two specialist quicks plus Adam Zampa. Having the batting ability of Green as low as No. 8 should, in theory, allow them to go harder earlier in an innings and push for totals well beyond 300.
Marsh has been a resounding success since moving to No. 3 in Australia’s T20I side and in his most recent ODIs – three games against West Indies last year and three against Sri Lanka after recovering from a side strain – he has taken the same role. In the 50-over format he has yet to enjoy the same returns, with a top score of 29 in six innings against West Indies and Sri Lanka, but he is seen as a player capable of exploiting the powerplay. However, the knock-on effect is moving Steven Smith and Labuschagne a spot lower down in the order. Smith makes no secret of liking to start an innings as soon as possible – he made a half-century at No. 3 against Sri Lanka when Marsh was sidelined – and in 2020 against India (he has only played two ODIs since) he scored back-to-back hundreds from 62 balls from No. 3. Overall, his ODI average in the position is 53.85 – putting him comfortably inside the top 10 – it drops to 35.61 at No. 4.
With an eye on a World Cup that will be staged in India, there is also the question of whether Australia feel they need to find a way to play another specialist spinner in the XI. In this current squad that option is Ashton Agar – who was ruled out of the Sri Lanka series with a side strain which saw Matt Kuhnemann given an opportunity – but his inclusion would likely need to come at the expense of a batting option. Agar has been limited to 16 ODIs since his debut in 2015, managing 16 wickets at 46.43. Maxwell is considered close to a frontline spin option in white-ball cricket and given he turns it the opposite way to Zampa that could be the likelier route.
It’s a topic that never seems too far away and while Aaron Finch fields questions about it with respect, he insists he is not bothered about what is written or said. “What other people think of me personally or how I’m playing, it’s actually irrelevant to me,” he told cricket.com.au. But, still, the form of an Australian captain is of interest. In four of his last seven ODI innings he has fallen for a duck (two of the other innings have been 44 and 62) and there is probably enough evidence to suggest he is past his prime. However, it would take a big change now for him not to be captain in India next year, a tournament which shapes as his international swansong. Still, with Travis Head – who is missing these two series on paternity leave – making a strong case for a permanent spot, it would be timely for Finch to put a couple of big scores on the board.