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January 19, 2014
Appealing though another 5-0 sweep of England may sound, Australia's selectors and a few of their players are now turning their attention towards the lofty challenge to be posed in South Africa.
On the eve of the announcement of the squad to face the world's No. 1 Test team it was revealed that none of Michael Clarke, his deputy Brad Haddin, nor opener David Warner would fly to Perth for the penultimate ODI.
The Sydney-based trio will thus join Shane Watson in resting up ahead of the final match of the series in Adelaide on Australia Day, having accomplished the goal of besting England in the limited-overs matches in the quickest time possible. As was the case during the Tests, when rapid wins bought valuable rest time for the fast bowlers, Australia's victories have allowed for extra recuperative days ahead of South Africa.
Matthew Wade has been named as the replacement for Haddin, confirming his status for the time being at least as the second in line for the wicketkeeping spot, while Steven Smith will remain with the squad and is likely to take Clarke's place in the middle order. Mitchell Johnson has been named vice-captain to Bailey for the match in Perth.*
"I'm going to think about spending three days with my beautiful wife and not think about cricket at all," Clarke said when asked if he was now thinking about Graeme Smith's team. "And then I'll come back in Adelaide, meet the boys there and look forward to hopefully winning and having a 5-0 result.
"But we've got plenty of time to worry about South Africa. After this one-day series we've got a four-day practice game over there and some time to make sure we're looking at the opposition. Right now our opposition's England, we want to win 5-0 here.
"We have a goal to become a better one-day team and get back to being No. 1 in the world, and we're not there. We know we can certainly improve in all facets, I know throughout this series we've seen improvement which is a really positive sign for this team, and I think we've shown even with giving guys a rest, especially the Test boys, we've still been able to have success.
"And I'm really confident in George, he's showed a lot of positive signs in regard to his leadership in the T20 format and certainly in the one day format, and I know he can take the guys to Perth and have success there."
Australia's tour party for South Africa is expected to feature 15 names, the feted XI who played in all five Ashes Tests plus back-up from James Faulkner, Alex Doolan, Jackson Bird and one of James Pattinson or Nathan Coulter-Nile. The only player with major reason to sweat over his place is George Bailey, who struggled to make an impact with the bat in his first series and could conceivably make way for the high scoring Phillip Hughes when the squad is named.
Nevertheless, there is remarkably little about the squad on which to speculate, a by-product of the success enjoyed at home this summer and the sorting of wheat from chaff undertaken by the coach Darren Lehmann during the England tour that preceded it.
Bird's probable return, after a back injury and work to remodel his action, will be opportune, ahead of a series likely to be played on the kinds of surfaces that the similarly tall and steady Stuart Clark once excelled.
"We've played some really good cricket, no doubt about it, but I think the selectors will talk about what they think is the best squad to go and play in those conditions against that attack," Clarke said. "And I think we did that throughout this whole series against England. We picked the 11 players we thought were best for the wicket we were playing on and the attack we were playing against and it worked out that we played the same XI in every Test. I don't think the selectors will have anything else in mind, they want to pick a winning squad."
To that end, the fluent Doolan may be in line to move into the top six, perhaps at No. 3 while Shane Watson drops down to No. 6, where his attacking flair as a batsman and pivotal overs with the ball can be utilised more evenly. Doolan has faced Dale Steyn and company once before, stroking his way to 161 not out for Australia A on an admittedly benign pitch at the SCG in late 2012.
Pattinson and Coulter-Nile are vying for the final pace bowling berth, a race in which the former's better overall record and previous Test experience is weighed up against the latter's greater recent load of match bowling and more fluent current rhythm.
Possible Test squad for South Africa
Michael Clarke (capt), David Warner, Chris Rogers, Alex Doolan, Steve Smith, Shane Watson, Brad Haddin (wkt), Mitchell Johnson, Ryan Harris, Peter Siddle, Nathan Lyon, Jackson Bird, James Faulkner, Phillip Hughes, Nathan Coulter-Nile.
Squad for fourth ODI Aaron Finch, Shaun Marsh, George Bailey (capt), Steven Smith, Glenn Maxwell, Matthew Wade (wk), Daniel Christian, James Faulkner, Mitchell Johnson (vice-capt), Nathan Coulter-Nile, James Pattinson, Xavier Doherty, Clint McKay.
* Story updated at 2240 GMT, Sunday January 19, to include squad for fourth ODI.
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets hereFeeds: Daniel Brettig
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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Stats highlights from the fourth ODI between India and West Indies in Dharamsala