Australia v England, 1st ODI, Melbourne January 10, 2014

Important series for Test wannabes

Vithushan Ehantharajah
Far from an afterthought after an Ashes drubbing, this ODI series holds great importance for several players striving for five-day cricket

Watching Chris Rogers's two-step as Australia brought their 5-0 Ashes success to the masses congregated at the Sydney Opera House went some way to highlighting the shift in moods between the two camps.

As the usually publicly reserved opening batsman was coaxed by Peter Siddle into a display of fleet-footed showmanship that seems a world away from his battle-weary arm guard, a handful of England players were already slumping back to the UK.

For those few not required for the limited-overs leg of this tour, the chance to relax will be a godsend. Whether Andy Flower and Kevin Pietersen can indulge fully in that luxury remains to be seen.

For those still here, the opportunity to restore credibility to the team and themselves should not be understated. In the next 15 months, limited-overs cricket will dominate the senses, with the World T20 coming up in March and then the World Cup in 2015, hosted in Australia and New Zealand.

The opportunity to play a more instinctive form of the game might be just the remedy for cluttered minds. Michael Carberry and Alastair Cook could benefit immeasurably from the freedom that comes with batting in the first Powerplay, with only two fielders allowed outside the 30-yard circle, to show their critics they are perfectly capable of playing the part of shot-callers rather than stallers. Boyd Rankin and Steven Finn may also be aided by those same fielding restrictions, which simplify a bowler's plans by cutting down their options with constrained margins.

For the fashionably late ones to the touring party, their presence during Friday's training session at the MCG was noticeable (the smiles gave them away).

Jos Buttler smashed and lap-swept the local net bowlers, much to the amusement of Cook, who spent the last part of the session watching things from afar. For all Buttler's ingenuity, it's his glove work that will be watched closely after Matt Prior was dropped for the fourth Test and Jonny Bairstow filled in inadequately.

England's batting woes over the last two months will mean performances in the upcoming one day matches will carry more weight than before, as comfort and solutions are sought. 'A' teams have their value, and while every England player has a handful of Lions caps packed away in a drawer next to some old keys and a couple of use batteries, it is in sustained ODI form that the loudest statements are made; statements that are not just limited to those yet to experience the unforgiving nature of Test cricket.

Ravi Bopara, England's ODI Player of the Year for 2013, will look to continue his ascension back into Test reckoning, since his last appearance against South Africa in July 2012. The last year has seen him engineer a massive turnaround in fortunes thanks to his exploits with the white ball.

He began the year out of the side, missing tours of India and New Zealand. He was also snubbed in the 2013 IPL auction, leading many to write him off as a spent force at just 27 years-old. But a recall to the squad for the Champions Trophy and a defined role in the lower middle order as finisher and fill-in bowler saw him finish the competition with 118 runs at a strike rate of 137.20, six wickets while conceding just 5.5 runs an over and a renewed sense of clarity.

By the end of the summer, he had scored 317 runs at 52.83 (a career high average for a calendar year) including a maiden one-day hundred against Ireland at Malahide. On that sunny September day, he was one half of a record fifth-wicket stand in ODIs. His partner, Eoin Morgan, who recorded an unbeaten century of his own and captained England to a six wicket win, finds himself in a trickier position, despite appearing the more stable of the two.

Dropped in the UAE as England fumbled in the dust against Pakistan in 2012, Morgan lost his central contract in November - replaced on England's full-time list by Joe Root. Morgan has consistently reiterated his desire to break back into the Test side, but his actions seem to suggest otherwise. Since his axing, he has played just nine first-class matches, something which has aggrieved Middlesex supporters, who have only seen him don their whites for seven of them.

His desire to spend the first part of the county season in India for the IPL has been a black mark against him, particularly in 2012 when he spent the entirety of the Kolkata Knight Riders' campaign on the bench.

But rather than go through the motions and pick up the cheque, he used the state of the art facilities and world class help on offer to him to rectify the same technical deficiency - an ungainly "crouch" that gave him extra punch but a moving head - that lost him his England place.

That England have now moved their international season back to accommodate the IPL will allow both Morgan and Bopara to take part in the event.

If they choose to do so, it's these next five matches against an Australian side enjoying a full-blooded renaissance during what seems like English cricket's greatest moment of trauma that will help them state a convincing case. Again.

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