Carlton Mid ODI Tri-Series 2014-15 February 1, 2015

A rope too long for Bailey?

Melinda Farrell
Australia have continued to persist with George Bailey despite modest returns. He undoubtedly brings leadership to the table, but can the team find the right balance with him, Steven Smith and Michael Clarke all in the same side?

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'Not hitting them as well as I would've liked' - Bailey

Twenty-four hours before walking out to the crease, his side stuttering after losing both openers early, George Bailey was toiling for an age in the nets. Bailey was struggling, unhappy with his own form, and - ever the professional -unwilling to leave the nets until he felt fully prepared for the match ahead.

Australia's current ODI captain admitted he found it difficult to prepare on match day with the extra responsibilities of finalising the team, tossing the coin and fulfilling media obligations.

When the time finally came, he proved to be anything but prepared. While Steven Smith tried to push Australia's run-rate from one end, Bailey was leaden at the other. He took 16 balls to get off the mark and, during the batting Powerplay, went 12 balls without scoring.

When the end came, it looked decidedly uncomfortable; Bailey flinched at a short ball from Stuart Broad, awkwardly fending to give James Taylor the simplest of catches at short leg. It took Bailey's average from his past 15 ODIs to 16.78.

With his smiling and laid-back demeanor, Bailey rarely appears ruffled. So it was something of a surprise to see him bristle in the pre-match press conference when a journalist suggested he might be hoping to find form at a ground where he's had plenty of success. It was, of course, at the WACA Ground during his modest Test career that he bludgeoned a tired Jimmy Anderson for 28 runs off a single over.

"Get some runs, you mean? I'm out of form?" was his terse reply. The smile remained intact, just as it does when he is sledging on the field, but it belied a defensive tone. His recent scores suggest it was a fair question; he has made a fifty only once in his past 14 ODI innings and on that occasion, he was dropped three times.

Bailey's reputation in the 50-over format has been largely built on his outstanding tour of India in 2013, during which he averaged 95.60. But his subsequent returns have been far more modest. In the 20 innings he's played since punishing the Indian attack on low, slow wickets, Bailey has notched a half-century on just two occasions, neither of them match-winning.

Bailey is generally seen as a likable and easy-going character - that smile again - with an apparent lack of ego that has allowed him to gracefully step up to the captain's role and then down again, depending on Michael Clarke's availability.

He has dealt with the uncertainty of his role admirably, admitting he could feasibly be captain of Australia's World Cup side one day, and watching from his lounge room the next; it's difficult to see how Clarke, Bailey and Steve Smith could all fit into one side.

Cricket Australia has long valued Bailey for his leadership skills and his contribution to a healthy team environment, even when his numbers were not setting the world alight. They kept faith with him when they could easily have installed Smith as ODI captain for the World Cup.

But it was perhaps telling that when Jos Buttler fumbled before clumsily removing the bails to end Smith's innings, the Fox Sports Cricket Twitter account tweeted, "Smith stumped! Reaction time of the Aussie skipper falters for the first time this summer!" In fact, the Aussie ODI skipper - although Smith has captained the ODI side once this summer - has faltered in all but one innings this series; a half century in the first match against South Africa.

In the same press conference in which he'd dismissed the notion of being out of form, Bailey was asked about the importance of Clarke to Australia's World Cup hopes. Bailey described the question as "weird".

"I still think we can win it without him," he said, the smile still firmly in place. "But I'd certainly prefer to win it with him."

There may be some very long net sessions in store before February 14.

Melinda Farrell is a correspondent at ESPNcricinfo