George Bailey chases World T20 dream
Michael Clarke's retirement from international cricket was bittersweet for George Bailey. In the absence of Clarke's tender back and the arrival of the more limber Steven Smith, Bailey lost what had been regular opportunities to captain his country. But in the vacation of Clarke's place in the order, Bailey found the regular spot his record had long merited.
Rather than wearing the orange bib of a drinks waiter that he accepted without rancour when Clarke was fit for last year's World Cup, Bailey's place in the Australian ODI middle order is now beyond question. He played neatly in the post-Ashes series in England that was the 50-over side's most recent assignment.
But there is also a challenge for him: to assert his value as a member of the Australian Twenty20 side, of which he is no longer captain or an incumbent member in the months before the format's ICC event in India. While there is a distinct difference between the formats, Bailey has to believe he can sway the selectors over the next five matches.
"There's a World Cup looming around the corner, and I'd love to be a part of it," Bailey said in Perth on Sunday. "I'll try to drop as many subtle hints as I can in front of Finchy [captain Aaron Finch]. And I'm pretty sure the selectors know I'm not retired now, so that's a step in the right direction. But runs are always the best currency."
It was in India, of course, that Bailey first surged as a leader. His 478 runs from 412 balls faced, at an average of 95.60, made his a stand-in captaincy by the very best of examples during the late 2013 ODI tour, even if Australia narrowly lost the series after an ominously rhythmic Mitchell Johnson was sent home early - and shrewdly - to prepare for the Ashes.
Nevertheless, Bailey's efforts turned heads both in India and back home, resulting in his call-up to the Test side for runs made in another format and on another continent. He is hopeful of doing the same again. "I've played a lot of T20 cricket in the subcontinent," he said, "and had some experience in World Cups. So hopefully that holds me in good stead."
As he prepares for a first World T20 as captain, Finch expressed a sentiment that will be welcomed not only by Bailey, but also a cadre of other experienced players well versed in the shortest format: to him, age should not be a determining factor in selection, merely aptitude. This, Finch clarified, was not a promise, but a guide.
"If we think they can help win a game for Australia, I don't think there's any reason not to consider them," Finch said. "I'm not saying that any of them will be selected. But at the same time, you have to look at everyone.
"We are trying to win a world tournament for the first time, and we would be silly not to have a look at the make-up and see if you can fit whoever it is. Whether it's an 18-year-old kid or a 45-year-old Brad Hogg - I think you have to look at that option. But it doesn't necessarily mean it will happen."
The popularity of this year's Big Bash League has prompted a few unusual questions for Australian cricketers - namely whether they felt odd leaving their T20 teams as the competition ramps up towards a conclusion. But Finch spoke for most when he stated the opportunity to face India was anything but a chore.
"Honestly not at all," he said if he would be irked to miss Melbourne Renegades duty. "While I'd love to continue playing and finish out the season with the Renegades, I wouldn't give up playing cricket for Australia for anything.
"We [Australia and India] are both two very passionate teams. They play with their hearts on their sleeves, and they're quite emotional people, as we are. We all want to win a game for our country. You do whatever it takes within the rules. That's why there'e always some great battles with India, there's some great confrontation which adds to the excitement of the game."
For Bailey and Finch, the series represents a return to national colours after plenty of time watching the Test men. But it is also the start of a journey towards another major trophy, one that Finch would dearly love to win and Bailey would dearly love to be vying for.
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @danbrettig