T20 games are crucial preparation for White
With his eye firmly set on challenging for the only global title that has eluded Australia, the ICC World T20, Australia T20 captain Cameron White sees the series against South Africa as crucial to the team's progression. Australia have five T20s scheduled before the event in Sri Lanka next year and White thinks every one of them will be vital.
"We definitely have to win these two games," he said. "From my point of view, with quite a young side and an inexperienced line-up, it would be nice to play some more cricket before the T2O World Cup. The more experience you can get into younger players, the better performances you will get out of them so it would be good to play a few more matches."
Australia's current T20 squad has six players under the age of 25 and three who have yet to play an international. Although White acknowledged that Australia are not at full strength, he thinks they are "pretty close," to it. "The side we've picked is the best Twenty20 side we could have picked."
Given the recent turmoil around the team following the Argus review and that they will play under an interim coach, there have been plenty of off-field distractions, but White denied any claims of instability and said the unit is as solid as ever. "I think everyone knows the situation the team's in and knows certain players are out of the team," he said. "Unsettled is definitely not a word I would use." Terms like "dynamic" and "promising" are the ones White would prefer to describe Australia's current situation and he is particularly pleased with sense of anticipation that surrounds the three rookies.
Wicket-keeper Matthew Wade is certain to debut in Thursday's match and White said his ability with the bat will also be put to good use. "He can open the batting and he has a good power game to bat in the lower or middle order. It gives us a lot of options."
All-rounder Mitchell Marsh has been touted as one of the best young talents to come out of Australia, having been the youngest player to feature in the country's domestic one-day competition. "He is a very hard hitter of the ball," White said. "Both him and Shaun are nice, big strong guys, so obviously a lot of talent in the family."
Mitchell is likely to join his brother Shaun in the starting XI and White said the family ties had already been tested in training. "We played a bit of touch rugby and their communication was useless. Their defence was nowhere," he joked. "We hope it will be a little better out in the ground tomorrow."
Even younger than Marsh is 18-year-old seam bowler Pat Cummins, who has been talked up since his recent Champions League Twenty20 performances for New South Wales. Shane Watson described him as mature and talented and one of the best young players to have emerged in the last 10 years. White agreed. "He is a really exciting talent, for someone to be only 18 and bowl as fast as he does is really exciting. Hopefully he is a big weapon in this series and going forward."
Cummins would likely have opened the bowling with Brett Lee, before appendicitis ruled the senior player out of the series. Although Lee will take no part in the matches, White said he would have an influence on Cummins nonetheless. "Brett is up and about now, which is a good thing. He will be at training today, he obviously won't be doing anything, but he'll be there to share the knowledge and help out the younger guys," he said. "I'm sure any sort of advice Brett can give Pat me over the next couple of days will hold him in good stead going into the T20 fixture which is pretty high pressure."
Australia have not named a replacement for Lee in the T20 series, and his absence will leave a bowling attack thin on experience, but losing senior players to injury is something White called "a sign of the times," saying that teams have to get used to juggling larger squads to deal with their full calendars. "With international fixtures quite busy these days, sometimes you do need a bit of a break, or you get injured or you need your appendix out, these are just things that come up nowadays."
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent