David Warner and Steve Smith played cameo innings in their comeback match for Australia yesterday as the hosts narrowly defeated New Zealand in a World Cup warm up match in Brisbane.
Meanwhile, Nathan Coulter-Nile staked a strong claim to be in Australia’s starting XI for the World Cup and all-rounder Marcus Stoinis continued his poor recent form in one day cricket.
Rarely has there been such intrigue attached to an unofficial ODI. For more than a year now there has been heated debate about the potential roles Smith and Warner would play at the World Cup after they returned from their 12-month bans for ball tampering.
Some fans have claimed that neither man should come straight back into a side which has won its past eight ODIs on the trot. Others have argued that Warner is a lock in Australia’s best XI but that Smith has plenty to prove.
Yesterday we got a hint at how that star pair might be used during Australia’s World Cup defence with Warner batting at three, where he made 39 from 43 balls, and Smith making 22 from 43 balls at number four.
Both were batting one spot lower than usual in 50-over cricket. That change was made to keep intact Australia’s blossoming opening combination of Aaron Finch and Usman Khawaja. That pair have a superb record together in ODIs, with an average opening partnership of 64 from 14 matches.
Their stand amounted to just four runs yesterday, however, as Khawaja was bowled by impressive Kiwi seamer Matt Henry (3-40). Finch (52) compiled a tidy partnership with Warner, who was dropped early but then played a sequence of crunching strokes.
There were no questions about the form of Warner, who just completed a dominant season in the IPL, making 692 runs at 69 including a remarkable nine scores of 50-plus from his dozen innings.
Smith, however, was far less fluent in the IPL, even if he did still put together a handy haul of 319 runs at 40.
On the eve of his return for Australia, Cricket.com.au posted a video on Twitter of Smith looking decidedly rusty during a national net session, struggling in particular against Mitchell Starc.
— cricket.com.au (@cricketcomau) May 5, 2019
The limited footage released of his knock yesterday made it difficult to get a sense of how well he batted, although his dawdling strike rate indicates he was battling for rhythm.
This match, of course, wasn’t just about the returns of Smith and Warner. There is robust competition for places in Australia’s starting XI for their World Cup opener against Afghanistan in just over three weeks from now.
Australia’s pace attack was impressive yesterday, with Pat Cummins (3-36), Jason Behrendorff (3-34) and Coulter-Nile (3-44) all having a significant impact.
Coulter-Nile further underlined his value as a one day cricketer by getting Australia out of difficulty with the bat.
Australia lost 5-42, leaving them needing 52 to win with just three wickets in hand. Coulter-Nile then belted three sixes in a crucial knock of 34 from 36 balls.
The West Australian has long underperformed with the bat considering his generous natural talent, but has played several handy knocks in limited overs internationals of late.
Given Australia do not have a genuine bowling all-rounder in their World Cup squad, like a James Faulkner or Ashton Agar, Coulter-Nile’s batting ability could potentially edge him ahead of Behrendorff, who labours with the blade.
Meanwhile, Stoinis (15) and Shaun Marsh (15) both missed opportunities to try to nail down a middle order spot, with dynamic all-rounder Glenn Maxwell still to come back into the team, likely squeezing out one of that pair.
Australia have two more 50-over matches against this understrength New Zealand side, who competed very strongly yesterday despite missing a heap of first XI players.
The second match is tomorrow and the third on Friday. Then Australia have a warm-up match against England on May 25, and one more against Sri Lanka on May 27 before starting their World Cup defence.