The first ODI of a five game series between Australia and England which takes place in Melbourne early on Sunday
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The Ashes is done and dusted but the rivalry between traditional foes Australia and England resumes in the 50-over format in a battle expected to be far more exciting and closely fought than the disappointingly lop-sided Test series.
Ironically, in the aftermath of such a hyped but underwhelming Ashes, the five-match One-Day International (ODI) series starting at the MCG on January 14 is set to be a relatively low-key affair and in the backdrop of the burgeoning Big Bash League and the upcoming Australian Open tennis.
Traditionally, Australians are used to England rolling out a staid and workmanlike 50-over team but things have markedly changed. These days, with the ODI format the No.1 priority for embattled coach Trevor Bayliss ahead of a home World Cup next year, England oozes with firepower particularly in the batting – even without the services of suspended superstar allrounder Ben Stokes.
Unlike their demure Ashes team, England boast of vaunted explosive depth throughout their batting order and have packed the top order with dynamic pair Jason Roy and Alex Hales to bat in the top three, meaning star batsman Joe Root will slot into the No.4 position. Jos Buttler, another heavy hitter, is set to fill the role of ‘floater’ but is slated to come in at No.6.
England’s attack isn’t as formidable but contains considerably more variety than their popgun Test arsenal led by quicks Mark Wood, Liam Plunkett and brilliant spinner Adil Rashid – the leading ODI wicket-taker of the past three years. They will prey on an unsettled Australian batting order and should feel confident of making the necessary inroads.
England might even deserve favouritism having won 34 of 53 matches since the last World Cup – the best of any team in the world during this period. In comparison, Australia – a perennial ODI powerhouse – disappointingly won just five of 15 last year marked by an early exit at the Champions Trophy.
However, the hosts had a mishmash of a schedule last year with rain – particularly at the Champions Trophy – often cruelly intervening. With the next World Cup approaching, Australian selectors have signalled their intention of experimenting well in advance of ODI cricket’s biggest prize.
Accordingly, veteran batsman Cameron White was granted a shock recall to sure up Australia’s wobbly middle order, which continually struggled in 2017. Mercurial all-rounder Glenn Maxwell, a mainstay of the ODI team for the past five years, was controversially dumped signalling the selectors’ determined bid to find the right middle-order combination.
Australia’s brilliant bowling dominated the Ashes but looks weaker with offspinner Nathan Lyon overlooked for limited-overs cricket, while star quick Josh Hazlewood will be rested for game one after a gruelling Ashes campaign. Pat Cummins will miss game two, while Mitchell Starc is also set to have a breather later in the series in what shapes as a golden opportunity for England to restore pride after a humiliating Ashes campaign.
With England strengthened and Australia somewhat shaky, the ODI series is primed to be a mouth-watering contest – a much-needed tonic after such a lacklustre Ashes.
It has been raining a fair bit in Melbourne but the forecast for match day is better. A 20% chance of rain has been predicted that recedes as the day progresses so we should be able to get a full match in without any trouble.
The drop-in pitch at the MCG is almost certain to be flat as a road and offer very little for the bowlers. We could witness a 300+ total being scored in both innings quite easily.
The much-maligned MCG pitch is under the microscope after being rated “poor” by the ICC for the Boxing Day Test. The pitch is expected to be slow and batting-friendly. There is a chance of rain but the match is expected to be played in clear and cool conditions.
David Warner, the Australian opener, has been declared a certain starter despite struggling with a gastro issue. Halzewood has been rested meaning uncapped West Australian pair Jyhe Richardson and Andrew Tye could make their ODI debuts. Both could play if Australia decide against playing Adam Zampa although the legspinner is tipped to be included.
Selectors will decide between Travis Head or White for the vacant No.4 spot.
Probable XI: David Warner, Aaron Finch, Steve Smith (c), Travis Head, Mitchell Marsh, Marcus Stoinis, Tim Paine (wk),Mitchell Starc, Pat Cummins, Jhye Richardson, Adam Zampa,cricinfo
In the absence of Stokes, England have shuffled their batting order with Hales batting at three and Root moving down to four. Struggling allrounder Moeen Ali might miss out if England decide to boost their pace stocks with seamer Tom Curran.
Probable XI: Jason Roy, Jonny Bairstow, Alex Hales, Joe Root, Eoin Morgan (c), Jos Buttler (wk), Moeen Ali, Chris Woakes, Mark Wood, Liam Plunkett, Adil Rashid
- Australia is very difficult to beat at home in all formats of the game
- England has some important players coming into the team that will not be affected by the test defeats before this series
- A lack of genuine pace in the England setup will continue to haunt them although we expect both the sides to bat very well in this series