Australia look set to unveil a revamped ODI batting line-up in tomorrow’s series opener against England, with Aaron Finch moving to the middle order, Travis Head opening and Marcus Stoinis batting at three.
The other major structural change could be playing five bowlers, with bowling all-rounders Ashton Agar and Michael Neser batting at seven and eight respectively.
These alterations appear likely based on comments from new coach Justin Langer yesterday and also on the way Australia lined up in their two warm-up matches, when they defeated Sussex by 57 runs and then knocked off Middlesex by 101.
Finch opened the batting – as he has done in all 88 of his ODIs to date – in the first match and made 78, but was then switched to number five against Middlesex, making 54 from 52 balls.
His move to the middle order was significant, given Langer’s comments after the match, as reported by ESPNCricinfo.
“Aaron Finch’s record opening the batting for the last five or six games for Australia, and against England, is just brilliant,” Langer said.
“It’s hard, but the way he batted (in the middle order against Middlesex), one of the areas we need to get better at over at least the last year or so is in that middle order. Particularly against spin. We’re all aware of it.
“He’s as fast as anyone between the wickets, which is a key focus for our one-day cricket. He’s fearless. He actually changes momentum of the game.”
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Langer also hinted Shaun Marsh would bat at four, with Stoinis becoming Australia’s new first drop, replacing the banned Steve Smith.
Stoinis batted at number three in Australia’s most recent ODI against England and was impressive, anchoring his team’s innings with a knock of 87 from 99 balls. He again batted at three against Sussex and was man of the match with 110 from 112 balls.
Stoinis has been a revelation in ODIs over the past 18 months, hammering 566 runs at 63, with a scorching strike rate of 104.
Based on the clues dropped by Langer, this is the Australia XI I expect to turn out at The Oval in London:
1. Travis Head
2. D’Arcy Short
3. Marcus Stoinis
4. Shaun Marsh
5. Aaron Finch
6. Tim Paine (wk)
7. Ashton Agar
8. Michael Neser
9. Andrew Tye
10. Kane Richardson
11. Billy Stanlake
If this is the XI, it will be the first time in years that they field an ODI line-up without at least one of Finch, David Warner or Smith in the top three. Australia have built their ODI batting unit around that trio for the past five years.
Short is set to be tasked with giving Australia a flying start against the new ball, filling the role which Warner has performed so brilliantly. The left hander made starts in both warm-up matches but could not go on with it, making 21 from 27 balls against Sussex and 18 from 12 balls against Middlesex.
Head looks likely to partner him at the top after making 106 while opening against Middlesex. The South Australian opens the batting in domestic 50-over cricket and, including the match against Middlesex, has made 396 runs at 66 when opening for Australia. Head typically looks to get himself set before taking on the bowlers, which is why it will be important for Short to bat aggressively.
Finch will be tasked with trying to fix Australia’s middle order worries. Over the past two years, Australia have frequently got off to good starts thanks to their strong top three of Warner, Finch and Smith.
Time and again, however, their middle order has been unable to build on these platforms.
That was evident in the first warm-up match, when Finch and Stoinis got Australia to 1-167 after 30 overs. From there, Australia were in a prime position to make 330-plus, but instead their middle order crumbled and they made only 9-277.
Along with Stoinis, Finch is Australia’s best player of slow bowling and Langer seems to think he can help combat England tweakers Adil Rashid and Moeen Ali, who have a habit of slowing down teams in the middle overs.
Langer also indicated he was keen on Australia fielding five bowlers, which they did in both warm-up matches, with Agar batting at seven in the first match and at six in the second.
“I’ve always seen having that extra bowling option work well in domestic cricket, particularly if your seven and eight can bat a bit and we’ve seen that with Ashton Agar and Michael Neser, they can bat a bit,” Langer told the media on Sunday.
This is a significant change in tactics, Australia long having favoured playing four bowlers, with the remaining ten overs sent down by batting all-rounders like Stoinis, Head, Maxwell and the injured Mitch Marsh.
Playing five bowlers would be a gambleb considering the middle order has been Australia’s biggest weakness, but now is a good time to experiment.
Missing six of their best XI, and playing away from home against the world’s number one ODI side, the Aussies have little to lose.