The 2019 world cup is just eight months away and, while all the teams are rushing to get their combinations right, Australia’s preparation took a huge jolt with the bans to Steven Smith and David Warner.
Justin Langer will call on all his gritty batting in a baggy green when he names his team to meet England at The Oval tonight in the first of five ODIs.
The 47-year-old starts his new career as Australian coach minus Steve Smith and David Warner still under suspension and Mitchell Starc, Pat Cummins, Josh Hazlewood, and Mitchell March, all injured.
That’s a massive 419 ODI caps of talent and experience missing for the entire series.
To magnify his problems, Glenn Maxwell just can’t get among the runs with just 92 from his last nine matches in the shorter formats, although Langer is convinced he’s close to a big score.
We’ve lost count of how many selectors have said exactly the same over the years.
So does Langer play Maxwell tonight?
He knows Maxwell will be a huge bonus in the field, but if Langer sticks with his conviction to play normal opener Aaron Finch to stiffen the brittle middle order, someone will miss out to slot Maxwell in.
If that’s the case Langer will have to find a new opener to partner D’Arcy Short with Travis Head and skipper Tim Paine the alternatives.
Head cracked 106 opening against Middlesex at Lord’s in the warm-up game won by 101 runs, but only three down the order against Sussex at Brighton in the 57-run victory.
Let’s stick with Head, as Langer is keen to promote Marcus Stoinis to the vital number three slot after his century against Sussex, followed by Shaun Marsh, and Finch, the most capped player in the side with 88 matches to his name.
If Langer takes the punt on Maxwell he’d bat six, with the skipper seven, followed by left-arm spinning all-rounder Ashton Agar, and three quicks – Jhye Richardson, Andrew Tye, and Kane Richardson.
So paceman Michael Neser would miss his debut, and leave an attack of the three quicks plus Agar, and the part-time spinners of Head, Short, Finch and Maxwell to complete the 50 overs.
Is the Maxwell punt too big, or worth it?
If Langer’s right and Maxwell is so close to a big score, there would be no better time than tonight to set up the series for the Australians.
One thing is for sure – if Maxwell tees off it would be big runs in a hurry, and a real bonus if he happens to be batting with Finch and he’s on fire as well.
That would be moraly damaging for England, still reeling after being beaten by Scotland for the first time. The loss was as big a shock as Don Bradman’s famous last Test duck in 1948, which was also at The Oval.
But England has more than that defeat to overcome with two of their best in Ben Stokes and Chris Woakes out of action for the series with injury.
So the new era of Australian cricket gets underway at 10pm (AEST) tonight. There are question marks all over the park which makes this series opener very different from the norm.
We just don’t know what to expect.