England v Australia
The Oval, London
Wednesday 13 June, 12pm GMT, 1:00pm local
England are the No.1 team in one-day internationals, and Australia are without Steve Smith and David Warner, both serving bans, and their first-choice pace attack of Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood and Pat Cummins, all of them injured.
So, when the five-ODI series between the two sides starts at The Oval on Wednesday, England will begin as the favourites, despite their defeat in Scotland over the weekend.
England have been the team to beat as far as the 50-over format is concerned. Since losing to Pakistan in the semi-finals of the ICC Champions Trophy 2017, they have won 11 of their 16 ODIs, with one washed out, scoring big runs to register convincing series wins over the Windies, Australia and New Zealand.
But the loss to Scotland must have come as a big jolt. Their bowling attack sans Ben Stokes and Chris Woakes, who are both out injured, first conceded 371 runs with all bowlers going at more than 6.5 an over. Then the batting unit, despite a whirlwind 59-ball 105 by Jonny Bairstow, were bowled out for 365 to lose by six runs.
The loss to Scotland must have hurt England and might force some rethinks, but they will now know which holes to plug, with Australia certain to pose a stiff challenge.
Bowling is the big worry for England. With Woakes and Stokes certain to miss the first part of the ODI series, the onus will be on some of Liam Plunkett, David Willey, Mark Wood and Jake Ball to lead the pace attack. Eoin Morgan might also be tempted to give Tom Curran a go after he impressed in his debut series in Australia earlier this year.
The spin duties will once again be handled by Moeen Ali and Adil Rashid, though how much spin England want to use at The Oval remains to be seen.
The batting will be boosted by the return of Jos Buttler, who was rested for the Scotland game. Bairstow, who smashed a third ODI century on the bounce – the first English batsman to achieve the feat – will be keen on continuing with his excellent form. And with the likes of Jason Roy, Alex Hales, Joe Root, Morgan and Buttler in the mix, the unit looks formidable.
For Australia, this series is the first in any format internationally since the ball-tampering incident in South Africa in March. The team has undergone big changes in personnel – from the captain to the head coach to the first-choice opening batsman, and have a severely depleted bowling unit that does not have Starc, Hazlewood or Cummins, who are all nursing injuries.
Tim Paine, the ODI captain, along with Justin Langer, the new coach, will, therefore, hope for the experienced players to stand up and deliver.
Aaron Finch, the vice-captain, was in good form in the two warm-up games, hitting quick half-centuries on both occasions, while Marcus Stoinis and Travis Head hit centuries in the games, the first from No.3 and the second as an opener.
Form concerns surround Glenn Maxwell, who failed in both the games, while D'Arcy Short, likely to open in the first game, got starts but couldn’t get a big one in either tour game. Ashton Agar did look good lower down the order though, and his batting form might help him pip senior spinner Nathan Lyon for a place in the XI.
Despite the three big names missing from the bowling attack, the Australians did well against Sussex and Middlesex. Kane Richardson was among the wickets in both games while Billy Stanlake looked good on his return from injury. Michael Neser, the uncapped 28-year-old medium pacer, might get a look in too after bowling well in the two games.
Jonny Bairstow (England): The England opener has been in outstanding form. He has hit a whopping 403 runs in the last five ODIs at 80.3, which includes three consecutive centuries. Despite the loss against Scotland, Bairstow will be high on confidence following his 59-ball 105 and will be keen to get that fourth successive century, a feat achieved in ODIs only by Kumar Sangakkara.
Travis Head (Australia): The flamboyant left-hander is fresh from a century against Middlesex during the second practice game. Having been in England since the start of the county season playing for Worcestershire, Head is familiar with the conditions and will be a vital asset to the team. His occasional off-spin might also come in handy if The Oval surface aids a little bit of turn.
It is expected to be a bright and sunny day in London on Wednesday, which means more smiles for the batsmen. With the first ODI being a day-night affair, there might be some assistance for the bowlers under lights but big runs are more likely to be the order of the day.
England: Eoin Morgan (c), Moeen Ali, Jonny Bairstow, Jake Ball, Sam Billings, Jos Buttler, Tom Curran, Alex Hales, Liam Plunkett, Adil Rashid, Joe Root, Jason Roy, David Willey, Mark Wood
Ben Stokes and Chris Woakes are with the squad but are carrying injuries
Australia: Tim Paine (c), Aaron Finch, Ashton Agar, Alex Carey, Travis Head, Nathan Lyon, Glenn Maxwell, Shaun Marsh, Michael Neser, Jhye Richardson, Kane Richardson, D’Arcy Short, Billy Stanlake, Marcus Stoinis, Andrew Tye