Bailey's 'real team' ready for England
On Friday, England and India were locked in a tough scrap to find out who the second-best team in this triangular series so far was. It was around the second drinks break during the chase when the game was in a delicate situation. England had only just begun to build a partnership after having been reduced to 5 for 66 while chasing 201. Fans of the two teams had just stepped out during the break when a taxi whizzed by, and a head sticking out from the front seat shouted, "If you want to see a real team, come here on the Sunday."
The real team will be playing on Sunday for sure. The real team knew it would be playing here more than a week in advance. The real team has gone unbeaten all summer across formats. The real team has set itself a goal to stay that way. Australia's captain for the moment, George Bailey, was asked about momentum when he revealed the "side goal" the team had set itself. "It'd be nice to win," he said. "Absolutely. We play every game to win. We spoke as a group before the Hobart game about winning 13 games straight as a bit of a side goal. So it'll be great to win."
It's actually 12 games from Hobart onwards. Australia have won one, they couldn't do much about the rained-out encounter in Sydney, and are favourites to win on Sunday. The scary part is they haven't yet played their best XI. From what we are hearing from their players at press conferences, there is a mean bowler coming back for the final against England.
"It's tempting to play all four quicks, I reckon, when you see a wicket like that," Bailey said. "We are sitting down this afternoon to sort that out but we are really happy that Mitchell Johnson is back and not that happy that he has been building up his overs in the nets. So it will be nice to actually see him unleash on the opposition rather than us being a cannon-fodder for the last couple of days, which has been a bit nasty."
There was a bit of humour involved in Bailey's press conference when he was asked if the World Cup champions and the Champions Trophy winners were not there in the final. "Not really, no," Bailey said. Then he added that it was not surprising because India had spent their energies on the Tests. That even Australia had, but it hasn't shown. They have a line-up whose firepower has made them real favourites for the World Cup. And Bailey said they had moved beyond the experimentation stage. They are ready to come at the world.
"At this stage I don't think we will be talking about mixing it up too much," Bailey said of the batting. "We've been pretty consistent with how we have approached the batting order for a long time and one of the good things about that is that it has given guys really well-defined roles. To pick one example out of it we have seen some real positive signs from Brad Haddin in one-day cricket. I think he has really nutted out his role in how to approach coming in late in the innings and closing out games or icing the cake when we are batting first. So I think we'll just stick with what's working."
The only aspect not working so far has been Bailey himself. He could become the joint-second-fastest Australian to 2000 runs but since his bumper tour of India in late 2013, he has averaged only 23 and hasn't scored a century. He spent a long time in the nets today, but didn't quite say he was out of form. Elsewhere Michael Clarke returned to grade cricket and batted for close to three hours. Bailey said he was happy because this means Clarke is ahead of schedule when it comes to his recovery, but it will also mean Clarke could take Bailey's place when he comes back.
A slightly uncomfortable question followed: "If you are going to win the World Cup, you need Clarke back and leading the side, do you think?"
Bailey waited. He thought. Then he said it was a weird question. Then came through the confidence: "I still think we can win it without him, but I'll certainly prefer to win it with him."
It's true too. Australia can win the World Cup even without Clarke. It will all come down to playing their best cricket on the big knockout nights. Their first experience, albeit at a much smaller stage, comes on Sunday when they face England in the triangular series final. The "real team" v the second-best team so far.
Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo