Clarke moves up to No. 3
Australia's captain Michael Clarke is expected to promote himself to the pivotal No. 3 spot in the ODI batting order for the matches against Afghanistan and Pakistan in the UAE, with Michael Hussey's return to add greater ballast to the touring middle order.
Clarke walked to the crease at No. 3 in both the trial matches played during Australia's pre-season camp in Darwin, and ESPNcricinfo understands that he is now inked to remain there as the team's best limited overs option in the position.
Having returned from parental leave that ruled him out of the dire ODI tour of England, Hussey will bat at Nos. 4 or 5, leaving the Twenty20 captain George Bailey and David Hussey to round out the top six.
Since Ricky Ponting lost form and was dropped from the ODI team during the triangular series last Australian summer, No. 3 has been something of a problem position for the limited overs team, as the vice-captain Shane Watson, Peter Forrest, Bailey and Matthew Wade have all been tried there with limited degrees of success.
When fit, Clarke has retained the No. 4 spot he occupied beneath Ponting for some years, and in England did so despite the clear inadequacy of Forrest in particular to handle the challenges posed by the home attack. At the time, Clarke and the coach Mickey Arthur believed that Hussey's absence from the middle order meant the captain could not afford to be any higher than No. 4, the better to have some influence on the later passages of an innings.
Clarke has a sound ODI record in his limited appearances at No. 3, averaging 36.20 in 18 matches and making one century, an unbeaten 111 against India in Vizag in 2010, when he was stand-in captain. He is now set to make the move a permanent one.
Australia's acting coach for the first part of the tour, Steve Rixon, said the tourists would be playing their best team against Afghanistan and Pakistan, intent on building consistency and confidence in the ODI unit. The series follows a 12-month period that has veered from strong results in Sri Lanka and South Africa, to a halting triumph in the triangular series at home, a shared encounter in the West Indies and the abject 4-0 defeat in England.
"We've got one tournament leading into another, which a lot of these guys will be doubling up in, from [ODIs] here into T20 over here into the big one over in Sri Lanka," Rixon said. "So we are conscious of that, however, first things first we need to win these one dayers so we'll be looking at our very best side. We need to look at the wicket, see exactly what we've got … when we see what the wicket looks like we'll assess our options, and our options are pretty good at the moment.
"You have to really be looking at your own backyard, and our own backyard is how we're going to play best in these conditions. Regardless of the opposition, it's how David Warner is going to combat a turning wicket, or how Michael Clarke's going to play against the opposition in Dubai, that's the way we set ourselves up."
The opening match against Afghanistan will be a chance for the Australians to witness how quickly the strife-torn country has developed a brave and opportunistic limited overs team. Though he expected the tourists to win, Rixon said he and the players were enlivened by the chance to encounter a rising nation.
"Afghanistan has come in as a minor competitor, but they are competing at the top level, so we've got to go in with a lot of respect for the opposition, but we'd like to think we go in with the upper hand to be able to beat them in these conditions with the side we have," Rixon said. "I like the idea that minor nations are getting the opportunity to come in and play against the big boys, I think that's great for cricket and the culture of the game.
"We've only just got some [videos] recently so I'll have a little look at that. I'm sure they'll go in with a 'we've got nothing to lose' attitude, which is an outstanding way to play it, but we're also going in as a side that's been No. 1 for a long time and we want to get back to No. 1 and make every post a winner. We have to do what we do well, and if we do that then I think we'll be good enough."
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here