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July 2, 2012
In the space of two matches, Australia have gone from questioning England's balance to thinking about appropriating it. England's use of five specialist bowlers and a top order of Test match pedigree have made the tourists look short on quality over the course of the first two ODIs at Lord's and the Oval, causing Australia's coach Mickey Arthur to suggest it was a path worth taking in next year's ICC Champions Trophy.
There has already been one Australian concession to England's way of playing the limited-overs game, with the fledgling allrounder Steve Smith dropped after Lord's to make way for the considered batting of Peter Forrest at No. 3. The call-up of the Test match bowlers Ben Hilfenhaus and James Pattinson may follow in Birmingham.
"I think in English conditions, they've almost gone back to the old sort of format of one-day cricket," Arthur said. "Three proper Test players at the top of the order, four out-and-out pace bowlers, a really good spinner. They're playing with their specialists, they're playing the one-day game with their best players.
"In England, I think that's a message for every other team, bearing in mind we come back here for the Champions Trophy [next year]. So I think England have a blueprint that works here and it's one we'll probably need to follow in these conditions."
The loss of Michael Hussey for the tour - so he could spend additional time at home with a young family - has proven to be a major blow, and Arthur said others were finding it difficult to replace him. "We were pretty settled I think coming into this tour then Mike Hussey didn't make the trip," Arthur said. "With Mike coming in at five he controls the game but the reality is Mike's not going to be around forever.
"We've got to find another player who can do that role and there's going to be a lot of opportunities this tour for somebody to try and nail that, so I'm looking forward to seeing who puts their hand up."
Smith's brief appearance in the ODI series re-opened the former questions about precisely what his role in the Australian team should be, or if he is deserving of one at all. Arthur depicted Smith's presence on the tour as a learning exercise, and pointed out that he had already played in two tour matches against Leicestershire and Essex. He also suggested that Smith would be a more useful proposition in the World Twenty20 in Sri Lanka later in the year.
"He hasn't done a huge amount of bowling on this tour so far but we're looking at Steve as a bit of a long-term proposition," Arthur said. "We go to subcontinent conditions for the Pakistan series after this, we've got the Twenty20 World Cup in Sri Lanka so he could play a prominent role there so we wanted to expose him, bring him back into the set-up and then have a look.
"He's had three chances though because he had Leicestershire and Essex before this one to really make a statement. He's bubbling away, we're working hard with him, trying to get his technique up to speed and we'll continue to do that with him."
Arthur denied that Smith needed to be bowling his leg breaks consistently to be of full value to the team - the captain Michael Clarke being notably hesitant to use him on this trip, bowling only one over in three matches. "If he's not bowling he brings two disciplines; he's fantastic in the field as well," Arthur said. "He's the type of player we're looking at, we just need his batting just to kick on a little bit and it's through lack of trying, we're working extremely hard with him."
Another player in need of hard work is Mitchell Johnson, whose return to Australian colours at the Oval was decidedly unhappy. Arthur is among Johnson's staunchest supporters, having been on the receiving end of his best bowling when South Africa coach in 2009, and said the left-armer needed to recover his confidence in international company.
"Mitch just has to start playing cricket again, he's been off for about eight months now," Arthur said. "He's just got to get out, get his confidence back, and he's got to realise he belongs in international cricket again and he'll do that pretty quickly. He just needs to get some good performances under his belt."
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets hereFeeds: Daniel Brettig
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