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January 10, 2013
George Bailey is one of the more amiable men in Australian cricket, and certainly one of the most straight-talking, but don't suggest to him that he will be leading a B-grade side into the first ODI against Sri Lanka on Friday. At Bailey's pre-match press conference on Thursday, he bristled noticeably when asked about the perception that without Michael Clarke, David Warner, Shane Watson, Matthew Wade and Michael Hussey this was a second-string side.
"It's still the Australian cricket team, isn't it?" Bailey said. "I'm sure Sri Lanka won't be taking it as the Australia B-team."
It is natural for a captain to defend his team, but there is no escaping the fact that this is one of the least experienced outfits Australia have ever fielded in a one-day international. There will be three debutants for the first time since Steve Waugh, Bruce Reid, Dave Gilbert and Simon Davis all played their first game together in January 1986. And those three debutants, Phillip Hughes, Aaron Finch and Usman Khawaja, will occupy the top three batting spots, the first time that has happened since the days of World Series Cricket, when Graeme Wood, Rick Darling and Graham Yallop did so in Antigua in 1978.
"Certainly all three have all earned their place - their domestic cricket record is outstanding," Bailey said. "A couple of Twenty20 games that Finchy has played [for Australia], he's played really well and was man of the match in one of those. Hughesy is obviously really at home in the Test side since he's been back there. They fully deserve it. Their domestic form has been really strong and they all have outstanding games for international cricket, Ussie and Hughesy in all forms."
In fact, it is their likely presence in Australia's Test squad to tour India that is one of the reasons Hughes and Khawaja are part of the ODI group, although both men have also enjoyed very productive Ryobi Cup campaigns this season. The selectors are keen to keep Khawaja and Hughes in the national setup and away from the Big Bash League in the lead-up to another important Test series, and that is just one of the selection factors.
For the same reason, men like Clarke, Warner and Wade are being rested ahead of heavy commitments, while longer-term planning for the 2015 World Cup meant the selectors felt there was little point playing the retiring Hussey. Whatever the case, the changes will provide opportunities for several players, including the debutants, Bailey, Glenn Maxwell and David Hussey, to impress the selectors and stake claims for inclusion on the Test tour of India.
"I think there are opportunities ... for a lot of guys in the side, the newer members of the side, to push for a claim on that Indian tour," Bailey said. "There is a lot of one-day cricket and some big Test tours coming up as well going forward and there are some holes that have been left in that Australian side ... There's no doubt there are opportunities to be grabbed.
"I'm not sure there'll be many blokes out there tomorrow thinking too much about the Indian tour. I think it's going to be challenging enough and enough on our plates trying to win this series let alone worry about that. It's a really simple equation for the batting group, and that's to score runs and be in good form for as long as you can to prove that you're a match-winner, to play spin well, and if you do all those things you'll certainly emerge."
Not only are there places up for grabs for this year's trips, but also the opportunity to become a regular in the one-day side. Michael Hussey's retirement will open up at least one full-time position, for which Finch might have the front-running as a short-form specialist, and although the World Cup is still two years away, the selectors are keen to blood some potential World Cup players now.
"There's a real air of excitement within the group," Bailey said. "There's no doubt the side's been picked with an eye on the World Cup in 2015 and hopefully by that stage, the guys that make it there, if they are the debutants now, have 40 or 50 games under their belt and feel more and more comfortable.
"We want them to go out and bat and bowl exactly as they are and not feel as though they have to replace a Ricky Ponting or a Mike Hussey. The skills the guys have got are good enough. it's about them going out and feeling comfortable enough to express that and I think if we do, this side's certainly good enough to get this side off to a really good start to the series."
Brydon Coverdale is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets hereFeeds: Brydon Coverdale
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