Australia, West Indies look to grow depth with eye on 2027

Australia

It has been a week of celebration in Melbourne for both West Indies and Australia. The smiles on the faces of the West Indies team after their Test heroics on Sunday in Brisbane will last for a long time. And despite being on the losing end of an epic, Australia have also had cause to celebrate.

On Tuesday night every member of the winning World Test Championship and ODI World Cup teams, bar David Warner and Marcus Stoinis, gathered at the Eureka Tower Skydeck, with the players receiving commemorative rings. They doubled down on Wednesday at the Australian Cricket Awards where Mitchell Marsh was the toast of the night, winning the Allan Border Medal as Australia’s best international player over the last 12 months.

But while Marsh was flying back to Perth on Thursday morning, a young fresh-faced Australian squad gathered for an optional training session at the MCG ahead of the first ODI since that World Cup triumph and scarcely a player skipped the session.

Both sides are missing some big names for a variety of reasons, but the series looms as a very early fact-finding mission for the 2027 World Cup, while Australia also have the 2025 Champions Trophy in sight.

Australia’s youth get their chance

The post-Warner era begins for Australia in ODI cricket, but Australia’s selectors have also rested Marsh, Glenn Maxwell, Mitchell Starc, Pat Cummins and Josh Hazlewood from the World Cup-winning team while Stoinis is playing franchise cricket after discussions with selectors about a desire to give youngsters some opportunities.

Australia are set to field one of their most inexperienced attacks in quite some time with two debutants likely to play at the MCG in Lance Morris and Xavier Bartlett, while allrounder Will Sutherland may well get a chance at some stage later in the series.

Hard-hitting allrounders Matt Short and Aaron Hardie are set to play in their first ODIs on home soil while Cameron Green comes back into the XI after being squeezed out during the World Cup.

Developing some lower middle-order batting depth in ODI cricket is a key part of the selectors planning for this series with Short and Hardie, who open and bat No. 3 in BBL cricket, set to be trialled down the list in the opening match at least. The selectors’ reasoning is that they have enough knowledge of what those two are capable of at the top of the order in domestic cricket and would like to give them some time in the tougher middle-order roles at international level, given they do not get a chance to bat there at the level below.

While Short would prefer to open, as he has done with great success for Adelaide Strikers in the BBL and Victoria in the 50-over Marsh Cup competition, he understands that there is potentially a chance to grasp a permanent place in the middle-order.

“I do feel more confident at the top of the order but any opportunity you get playing for your country, whether it be through the middle or at the top, I guess that’s the challenge,” Short said. “If the spot is there to be taken, if that’s the only way in, you just have to take that opportunity and try and do as best you can and sort of wait your turn.”

Short has spoken to Stoinis about the transition from being a BBL and one-day opener to becoming a middle-order finisher at international level.

“He’s been in a similar boat,” Short said. “He was really dominant at the top of the order throughout the BBL and probably didn’t quite have the spot available for him at the international level. So he’s sort of changed his game a little bit, obviously batting through the middle and finishing innings. I spoke to him a little bit just on that role change and starting with the field out. But I think it’s still having that same positive mindset.”

Australia are also set to trial Josh Inglis at the top of the order in ODI cricket for just the second time in his career, having been an important middle-order contributor in the World Cup after replacing Alex Carey. Inglis has contracted Covid in the lead-up to Friday’s series opener at the MCG but was still able to train on Thursday and is expected to play, with some precautions taken in terms of his interaction with team-mates as was the case with Green during the Brisbane Test.

It means there is likely no spot for exciting young batter Jake Fraser-McGurk in the series opener, but he will get the chance to play during the three matches, and it did not go unnoticed during the pre-series photo opportunity that he was wearing the No. 23 on his back, the same number worn by two of Australia’s great showmen, Shane Warne and Michael Clarke.

If history is any guide, Australia’s XI on Friday could form the backbone of the side at the 2027 World Cup. Australia’s first ODI XI after the 2019 World Cup featured six of the XI who played in the 2023 final, with Marnus Labuschagne debuting in that game. But Travis Head, Marsh and Maxwell were all left out of that 2020 side on form before being matchwinners in the World Cup three years later.

West Indies look to build depth

West Indies’ journey to 2027 has already begun with an excellent 2-1 series win over England at home in December. The ignominy of missing qualification for the 2023 World Cup is disappearing in the rearview mirror. Given the qualification for 2027 will likely be done on world rankings, the match-by-match pressure of the ODI Super League has been relieved, however, there is a need to be consistent.

Coach Daren Sammy reiterated his captain Shai Hope‘s statement that West Indies are trying to build some squad depth.

“It’s about giving exposure, getting a core of guys,” Sammy said. “What I’m really happy about is the competition for places. And it’s competition from performance, not the lack thereof. If you give somebody an opportunity to play in your spot, sometimes you might not get it back. As you saw through the Test match, seven guys who have not played [performed].”

Sammy was hopeful his ODI squad could be inspired by the deeds of the Test team. From the side that beat England last December, Brandon King and Sherfane Rutherford have been released to play franchise T20 cricket while Shimron Hetmyer has been dropped. It opens the door for three batters to make a name for themselves.

Kavem Hodge performed exceptionally in the Brisbane Test and could win an ODI recall having played three matches in 2023. Justin Greaves also showed promise in the Tests and could play his first one-dayer since 2022 while Grenadian top-order batter Teddy Bishop and Guyanese wicketkeeper-batter Tevin Imlach could make their ODI debuts.

Sammy urged his inexperienced group to follow the lead of the Test side and adapt quickly to the style of cricket required in Australian conditions.

“I’m looking at the MCG there, you got to adjust,” Sammy said. “Unlike most grounds where the square boundaries are short, Australia poses that challenge with big square boundaries. It means the ball will be more back of a length, shorter than fuller. So the ability to adjust and that’s the brand. Understanding what’s required. Everybody is clear about their roles.

“Ever since I came in myself, and Shai, we’ve always tried to be clear with what’s required to help us with matches. To me adaptability here in Australia is key. The Test team did it. [It’s the] first ODI series in 2024 for us, we’ve got to come here and be adaptable in these conditions.”

The squads

Australia: Steven Smith (capt), Sean Abbott, Xavier Bartlett, Cameron Green, Aaron Hardie, Travis Head, Josh Inglis, Marnus Labuschagne, Jake Fraser-McGurk, Lance Morris, Matt Short, Will Sutherland, Adam Zampa

West Indies: Shai Hope (capt), Alzarri Joseph, Alick Athanaze, Teddy Bishop, Keacy Carty, Roston Chase, Matthew Forde, Justin Greaves, Kavem Hodge, Tevin Imlach, Gudakesh Motie, Kjorn Ottley, Romario Shepherd, Oshane Thomas, Hayden Walsh Jr.

Alex Malcolm is an associate editor at ESPNcricinfo

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