Australia will start their ODI series against England today as the biggest outsiders they have been in the 50-over format for more than 20 years.
The tourists will be missing six members of their best XI – their two finest batsmen in Steve Smith and David Warner, their three best bowlers in Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood and Pat Cummins, and their most experienced ODI all-rounder in Mitchell Marsh.
What’s left is a patched-up side extremely low on experience, led by new captain Tim Paine, tasked with defeating the world’s number one ODI side in their own backyard.
Here are my predictions for the series:
Leading runscorer: Jonny Bairstow (England)
This is a no-brainer: Bairstow is in beastly form. Since the start of 2017, the English opener has creamed 1098 ODI runs at 69, including five tons, with a scorching strike rate of 107.
Bairstow is only getting better the more experience he gains against the new ball, having cracked three tons in his last three ODI innings.
He was not at his best in Australia earlier this year, making 157 runs at 31 as England beat Australia 4-1. But on what are expected to be ultra-flat home pitches, Bairstow’s wide range of strokes will be hard for Australia to contain.
Leading wicket taker: Andrew Tye (Australia)
It was a tight call between Tye and England’s Chris Woakes.
The Englishman is a greatly-improved quick, having averaged 23 with the ball over the past two calendar years.
Tye, meanwhile, is a natural wicket taker thanks to his array of change-ups. These deceptive deliveries should be particularly valuable against a hyper-aggressive batting side. The white-ball specialist is coming off a sensational IPL season in which he was the leading wickettaker in the tournament, with 24 wickets at 18.
Surprise packet: Ashton Agar (Australia)
Agar looks set to be given huge responsibility by new coach Justin Langer, who has strongly hinted that the 24-year-old will be the team’s number one spin bowler while also being promoted to bat at number seven.
Agar has made great strides as a bowler over the past two years. He can be difficult to score off because of his height, accuracy, calmness under pressure, and his ability to change his pace by up to 20kmh from one delivery to the next without an obvious change in his action. With the bat he is a free-scoring strokemaker who has done his best work under pressure for Western Australia and the Perth Scorchers.
Australia’s x-factor player: Billy Stanlake
Stanlake is truly unique, there is no other bowler in world cricket like him.
At 204cm tall and with the ability to regularly hit 150kmh, he is genuinely intimidating. While he regularly harries batsmen with his pace, it is the steep bounce he earns which most regularly startles the opposition. However, the 23-year-old also has a lovely outswinger and is underrated for his accuracy.
If he finds his rhythm he has the tools to take multiple wickets with the new ball. Australia will desperately need to make inroads in the first ten overs given the depth of England’s batting line-up.
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England’s x-factor player: Ben Stokes
The last time Australia ran into Stokes, 12 months ago during the Champions Trophy, the England all-rounder had just won the IPL Player of the Tournament award, and came to the crease against Australia with England in a mess at 3-35, then hammered 102* to help his side storm to victory and effectively boot Australia out of the tournament.
But only a few months later, Stokes’ life was thrown into turmoil after he allegedly king-hit a man in a drunken brawl, leading to a lengthy playing suspension.
Since his return, he’s been ordinary for England and had a poor IPL.
But Australia are well aware of the carnage Stokes can create if he finds form.
1. Travis Head
2. D’Arcy Short
3. Marcus Stoinis
4. Shaun Marsh
5. Aaron Finch
6. Tim Paine (wk) (c)
7. Ashton Agar
8. Michael Neser
9. Andrew Tye
10. Kane Richardson
11. Billy Stanlake
1. Jason Roy
2. Jonny Bairstow
3. Alex Hales
4. Joe Root
5. Eoin Morgan (c)
6. Jos Buttler (wk)
7. Moeen Ali
8. David Willey
9. Liam Plunkett
10. Adil Rashid
11. Mark Wood