On Monday David Warner and Steve Smith look set to make their unofficial international comebacks for Australia in a three-match 50-over series against New Zealand in Brisbane.
While this series barely has been publicised, Cricket.com.au have reported the three matches will be played in Brisbane on Monday, Wednesday and Friday.
Warner and Smith both have left their IPL teams part of the way through that tournament to link up with Australia’s World Cup squad for a training camp in Queensland.
It is more than 13 months since either of these superstars represented Australia, having been handed year-long bans for their roles in the ball tampering scandal in South Africa in March last year.
They will have the lowest-key possible returns in these unofficial ODIs against a drastically-understrength New Zealand squad missing 10 members of their 15-man World Cup squad.
The Kiwis will be without their four best ODI cricketers – gun swing bowler Trent Boult, and prolific batsmen Kane Williamson, Ross Taylor and Martin Guptill.
Boult is the world’s number two ranked ODI bowler, Taylor is the number three ranked ODI batsman, Williamson has 5,554 runs at 46 in this format, and Guptill owns 16 ODI tons.
New Zealand will also be missing all-rounder Colin de Grandhomme, opening bowler Tim Southee, express quick Lockie Ferguson, big hitter Colin Munro, and spinners Mitchell Santner and Ish Sodhi, all of whom were picked in their 15-man World Cup squad.
Australia, meanwhile, should be at close to full-strength. Warner and Smith both will return in fine nick, with the former having ripped the IPL to shreds while the latter was solid for the Rajasthan Royals.
In a dominant display, Warner piled up 692 runs at 69 in the IPL, displaying phenomenal consistency to make nine scores of 50-plus from his 12 matches.
Smith, meanwhile, was far less dynamic but consistently played a handy anchor role for the Royals as he made 319 runs at 40.
Both batsmen will have benefited greatly from this heavy exposure to elite white ball bowlers ahead of the series against New Zealand.
Also impressive in the IPL was Australian batting all-rounder Marcus Stoinis, who made 211 runs at 53, although he struggled with the ball, taking two wickets at 72 and giving up 8.7 runs per over.
Stoinis’ position in Australia’s starting XI for the World Cup must be uncertain given his very poor recent form in ODIs.
In his past 20 ODIs, the West Australian has averaged just 25 with the bat, at a very slow strike rate of 82, to go with a bowling average of 40.
The man who may be putting pressure on Stoinis to retain his starting spot is fellow batting all-rounder Glenn Maxwell. Maxwell’s good form with the ball could convince the selectors to try to get up to 10 overs out of him in the upcoming World Cup, just as they did with success in the 2015 version.
That would make Stoinis’ bowling surplus to requirements and open up a spot for Australia to play an extra specialist batsman. This could be appealing for Australia given the logjam of strong batting options. Warner and Smith have fantastic ODI records, while Aaron Finch, Usman Khawaja and Shaun Marsh all have impressive recent form.
Maxwell played as Australia’s sole spinner in the last World Cup and had a sensational campaign, finishing in the Team of the Tournament. He then went largely unused with the ball under the captaincy of Smith but is now back bowling well after being shown faith by new skipper Finch.
In six matches in the Royal London One Day Cup, Maxwell has taken eight wickets at 37, with an excellent economy rate of 5.62 runs per over in what has been a high-scoring competition to date.
He has bowled almost nine overs per match in that tournament, helping him prepare for a big role with the ball in the World Cup. Maxwell also took 6-76 in his sole first-class match for Lancashire, underlining just how well he is bowling.
Stoinis will need to step up against New Zealand over the next week to cement his position in Australia’s starting XI. But the big news will be the comebacks of Smith and Warner.
New Zealand 50-over squad
Tom Latham (c), Todd Astle, Hamish Bennett, Tom Blundell, Doug Bracewell, Matt Henry, Daryl Mitchell, Jimmy Neesham, Henry Nicholls, Seth Rance, Hamish Rutherford, Will Somerville, Blair Tickner, George Worker, Will Young.
Australia World Cup squad
Aaron Finch (c), Jason Behrendorff, Alex Carey, Nathan Coulter-Nile, Pat Cummins, Usman Khawaja, Nathan Lyon, Shaun Marsh, Glenn Maxwell, Jhye Richardson, Steve Smith, Mitchell Starc, Marcus Stoinis, David Warner, Adam Zampa