Australia vs England | Friday 16 January | SCG, Sydney | 05:20
An enthralling Tri-Series begins on Friday including three relative World Cup hopefuls. Indeed, it will be the perfect preparation for India and England, with the big tournament being held Down Under. Australia will open up the series against their most fierce rivals in a mirror of their World Cup opening match. Despite England’s trials and tribulations over the past year or so, they will be looking to turn a corner following the dismissal of toxic Alastair Cook from the setup. While their World Cup dreams remain distant at best, an improved showing in the country that sparked their demise will be the perfect confidence boost. For Australia, nothing less than victory will suffice.
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Steve Smith’s record-breaking stretch as captain of Australia has come to a pause, with George Bailey taking over the ODI captaincy in the absence of Michael Clarke. While in the squad, Clarke will have to wait until mid-way through the World Cup to make his expected comeback. Smith, however, is in the form of his life, shattering Don Bradman’s record of most runs in an Australia/India Test series. He finished with a whopping 769 runs in the four-match series with centuries in every Test. Bradman made 715 runs in a five-Test series, just to put the achievement into context. Prior to the India Test series, Smith also scored plenty of runs in the ODI series against South Africa. He is, without a doubt, Australia’s key player at present. But much will also depend on David Warner’s ability to reflect his Test form in the one-day arena (he averages just a shade over 31.00 in the format). Mitchell Marsh has been included in the squad but will only be able to bowl in the latter parts of the series and will likely miss the first two matches. Australia’s sprightly pace attack (Cummins, Hazlewood, Johnson, Starc) will utilise the long square boundaries in the country with a short, fast game plan. Xavier Doherty is the only specialist spinner included.
Alastair Cook has finally been given his marching orders, giving England an opportunity to forge a new path in the cricket world. Eoin Morgan has been handed the reigns, which should result in a more attacking and positive outlook. This is most definitely a step in the right direction, as Cook’s loss of form and backbone appeared to affect everything about the side. As Stuart Broad put it, England had become too “tight” under Cook, both on the field and in the dressing room. Morgan’s Irish aggression is likely the tonic needed to instill self-belief, despite his own worrying form with the bat. England have won a mere three of their last thirteen ODIs and have claimed victory in only one of the last seven bilateral ODI series. Now, at least, the side cannot be held back by unrealistic expectation. Morgan has opted for a top order containing Ian Bell and Moeen Ali as opening partners, followed by James Taylor. Alex Hales is also waiting in the wings for a spot in the top three, as well as Gary Ballance. Having been bowled out in nine of their last twelve ODIs, England’s selection of their top order is paramount. Morgan will be pleased to have Broad and Anderson back into the attack following injuries, with Tredwell and Ali likely to share the spin duties.
The SCG plays host the first series encounter and is certainly a happy hunting ground for Australia. They last lost an ODI in Sydney in 2012, against Sri Lanka, and one will have to go back to 2010 to find their next indiscretion, against the same opponents. England have not won an ODI in Sydney since 2007 and since then, Australia have only lost those two matches against Sri Lanka and one against South Africa.
Although I expect a positive England to arrive and perhaps not budge as easily as recent fixtures, Australia’s powerful batting line-up coupled with a stellar pace attack should put pay to England’s best efforts. They lost by seven wickets at the ground in January last year and may perhaps be happy with a simple improvement on that result. Back the Aussies.
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