England vs Australia | Friday 06 September | Headingley, Leeds | 11:15
With an almost barren international cricket calendar for the next month or so, the ODI series between rivals England and Australia will be forced to centre stage, despite it being clear that all the English care for at present is retaining the Ashes in Australia later in the year. Zimbabwe also take on Pakistan at home, but with the series previously poised to suffer a boycott and Zimbabwe’s subsequent loss of their top bowlers to unpaid salaries, there is little chance of the hosts overturning the visitors. So the focus will remain in England, with a drawn T20 series last week intensifying the need for fifty-over triumph.
As previously stated, England’s priority is going to Australia and retaining the Ashes. The upcoming five-match ODI series holds little importance in the grand scheme of things for the English, which is evident in the players they have chosen to rest, albeit deservedly so. Notable Ashes omissions include captain Alastair Cook, bowling kingpin James Anderson, in form stroke-player Ian Bell, wily finger spinner Graeme Swann and, well, Stuart Broad. England have chosen to retain Kevin Pietersen following his injury layoff and he will provide much needed experience in the top order. In Cook’s absence, Eoin Morgan will captain the side and will travel to Dublin to lead against his former nation in a warm-up fixture, but he will not followed by KP, Root or Trott. England will likely use this fixture against Ireland as an opportunity to blood a new set of youngsters. Against Australia, it looks likely that Carberry will make his debut in an opener’s role, with Joe Root accompanying him. Steven Finn is set to lead an inexperienced attack and James Tredwell will fill the spin role. It’s a bits and pieces side, but one good enough to click on the day.
There are also a few changes in the Australian dressing room, although one feels that the decisions made were far more difficult. While England are taking a relaxed and experimental approach to this series, the Australians will be desperate to win it and have something to take back home before both sides do the Ashes dance all over again. David Warner has been axed, coach Darren Lehmann citing a lack of ODI form as the catalyst. While he is correct that Warner has had a torrid time in the fifty-over game of late, his form towards the end of the Ashes series and during the T20s showed improvement. Nevertheless, in his absence, Shane Watson has been earmarked to open, leaving a space at three. Shaun Marsh seems most likely to fill the gap. Mitchell Starc will also return to Australia with soreness in his lower back and a thigh injury to Steven Smith has ruled him out. Smith showed tremendous promise and improvement during the Ashes series and will be missed.
Although the wicket at Headingley is generally known as one that will assist the seamers, especially with some cloud cover, the dry nature of the English pitches over the summer puts this in question. England have a decent record here in ODIs, but Australia have barely played limited overs cricket at the ground over the years. Their last win came back in 1981. At this stage, the weather looks clear.
BEST: Top Australian Batsman, George Bailey 6/1
Admittedly, Bailey has not been in the best of form over the two T20 fixtures. However, he already averages almost 44.00 in ODIs in his short career and has probably been the most consistent performer for Australia in the format over the last year. At 6/1, he’s definitely worth a small wager.
VERDICT: Australia 8/10
It has been a long time since Australia have won at this ground in an ODI, but something tells me that they have what it takes this time around. On paper, their side looks better than England and I feel it may take a couple of games for hosts to gel as a new unit. Back the Aussies here.
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