Should he have been picked?
Australia’s gun new-ball pair of Mitchell Starc and Pat Cummins will today engage in a tantalising battle with England’s brutal top order in a high-stakes World Cup warm-up match at Southampton.
It may seem hyperbolic to use the term “high stakes” to describe a practice match but this is about as serious as World Cup warm-up fixtures ever get.
Beyond the always-fierce rivalry between the Ashes opponents, there are other hefty reasons both Australia and England will be desperate to win today’s match.
Australia will be determined to try to exact some revenge for the 9-1 flogging handed to them by England across back-to-back, home-and-away five-match ODI series last year. England, meanwhile, would dearly love to burst the bubble of the rejuvenated Aussies, who are on an eight-match winning streak in ODIs.
The Ashes rivals will meet again in the World Cup in exactly one month from now, in a match which could prove crucial to both side’s hopes of qualifying for the semi-finals. Which all helps explain why today’s match is unusually important for a warm-up fixture.
The most intriguing element of today’s game will be how Australia’s strong bowling attack can cope with England’s incredibly-destructive batting line-up.
Never before in ODI history has a team churned out massive scores as regularly as this England side. They make scoring 350 look elementary and passing 400 is their constant aim.
Australia are intimately familiar with the carnage they can create with blade in hand. Last year England piled up a gobsmacking 6-481 against Australia in an ODI at Trent Bridge, smashing the record for the highest team total.
That victory was part of England’s 5-0 humiliation of Australia, which came just months after they hammered them 4-1 down under.
While England were by far the superior side across both of those series, Australia often were undermanned.
That was particularly so in the series in the UK when Australia was without star batsmen David Warner and Steve Smith, and key bowlers Mitchell Starc, Pat Cummins and Nathan Coulter-Nile.
Starc and Cummins are arguably the best pace duo in ODI cricket. The tall left armer was Player in the Tournament as Australia won the last World Cup and has a phenomenal ODI record of 145 wickets at 21.
Cummins, meanwhile, is in career-best form in this format. As Australia won back-to-back ODI series in India and Pakistan this year Cummins dominated with 17 wickets at 14.
The tall right armer has carried that form into Australia’s four recent practice matches, during which he has grabbed nine wickets at 11. Cummins also owns a good record against England in ODIs, with 22 wickets at 27.
Starc, meanwhile, does not boast this same form or momentum. It is more than six months since he played his last ODI.
The 29-year-old has been limited to just 10 ODIs since February 2017 due to both injury and Australia’s desire to protect his fragile body. This past month, however, Starc has finally been taken out of cotton wool and is beginning to show signs of returning to his fearsome best.
He reportedly has been clocked at 150km/h in Australia’s practice matches, during which he has taken five wickets at 16.
Video highlights from those matches have shown Starc operating with encouraging rhythm. But it will be a whole new challenge bowling to England’s intimidating batting unit.
So many batting weapons do England possess that it’s easy to forget about Joe Root. The Test skipper has a sensational ODI record, with 5,300 runs at 50, yet he gets overshadowed by the frequent blitzkriegs of teammates Jos Buttler, Jonny Bairstow, Jason Roy and Eoin Morgan.
Each of those four batsmen has the ability to come to the crease and immediately cut loose. With Root anchoring the innings, the more dynamic English batsmen have the freedom to attack relentlessly.
Starc and Cummins badly need to make the most of the new ball today to avoid spinner Adam Zampa and Australia’s all-rounders from having to bowl to well-set English batsmen intent on wreaking destruction.
The prospect of that Aussie pace pair fired up and going hard at the English top order is enough to whet the appetite of any cricket fan. Which is why today’s fixture in Southampton is more than just a practice match.