Cook to have early look at Australia
Australia's first chance to measure their progress against England since the last Ashes series will have a pointed prelude in Essex, with Alastair Cook intending to play for his county in Tuesday's 50-over match at Chelmsford. England's ODI captain, Cook was not a part of the Twenty20 side who faced the West Indies on Sunday and so will get a sighter of the Australian bowlers, who have changed their approach markedly since he ran up 766 runs against them in five Tests in Australia.
Following the rain-ruined ODI against Ireland in Belfast, the tourists returned early to London for an additional training session at Lord's. Their coach Mickey Arthur said the squad was now eager to face England, a team whose methods and successes were a major influence on the direction Australia have taken since the release of the Argus review a little less than a year ago.
"I think England over the last 12 months have been very proficient, particularly in their own conditions," Arthur said. "They've won six ODI series in a row in their own conditions, which makes them formidable opponents out here. We're very excited though to come and play. We feel like we've got our one day side going in the right direction, we feel there's definite role clarity, guys know where they stand and they're ready to take the baton on."
Having rotated their bowlers through the first two matches of the tour, the Australians will now seek to settle into close to their best side at Chelmsford. A six-strong pace bowling battery must be pared down to three, Brett Lee to be supported by two of James Pattinson, Pat Cummins, Mitchell Johnson, Clint McKay and Ben Hilfenhaus. The batsmen, meanwhile, have only had one chance to get to the middle so far, leaving Arthur keen to get a full match in against Essex.
"We'll have some serious consideration around trying to put out the team against Essex that we think might play in the first ODI because we need to get some preparation into them now, particularly our batters," he said. "Our bowlers have had a good hit-out, and you can always manufacture it for bowlers through your training. but batters a re a little different, batters need time in the middle. So we'll look to probably playing the outfit that's going to play the first ODI against Essex, or very close to it."
Arthur and the captain Michael Clarke are intent on balancing their batting resources carefully. George Bailey's absence from the Ireland match with a minor groin strain prompted a shuffle in the order, as Peter Forrest was slated to come in at No. 3, Shane Watson promoted to open with David Warner and the wicketkeeper Matthew Wade dropped down to bat at Nos. 6 or 7. Arthur said he needed his batsmen to be flexible, knowing their roles could change depending on who was around them.
"I think if you get too structured you're putting all your cards on deck," he said. "Yes we'd like some consistency for our batters so they know where they're going to bat, but the batters know from my conversations with them that they know what's expected, they know what roles they're going to play. And we're just lucky that we've got Wadey who can go from opening to finishing with minimal fuss. He's proficient at both."
A part of the selection panel that chose Australia's slimmed-down list of 17 contracted players, Arthur said the choice of only six batsmen reflected a lack of certainty over the nation's batting stocks, and would help to make other players a little hungrier to perform over the next 12 months.
"That sends a real message out to batters that we're looking for batters to really stand up and grasp for their opportunities, in all forms," he said. "It probably looks like that we're a little more certain on our bowling stocks than we are on our batting stocks and if that's a message then I think it's the correct message.
"We just tried to be as consistent as we could to forward think a little bit and see who the batters are who we're going to use. It would look silly if the contracts came out and then we picked guys that weren't anywhere near the contract list.
"We had to try to be as consistent as we could, as certain as we could with certain players and individuals, and the message then is clear that there are batting positions available. If a guy can string three Tests together or six ODIs, they will get the contract, but we're looking for batsmen to put their hand sup and say this is where they want to be."
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here