Australia to use ODIs as testing ground
Ricky Ponting expects Australia to win their ODI series against West Indies but there is more at stake for his team than a simple five-match contest. Of greater importance than the immediate results will be what Australia learn about their new group of fringe players, some of whom could soon become permanent members of the team.
They have not played a one-day international since losing the CB Series to India in March, so this will be their first outing without the newly retired Adam Gilchrist and Brad Hogg available for selection. They are also missing the injured Matthew Hayden, who at 36 has shown no indication of quitting limited-overs cricket but is unquestionably in the twilight years of his career.
Making do without key squad members could become more frequent for Australia, who have a hectic schedule over the next 12 months. First they will prepare to defend their title at the Champions Trophy in Pakistan in September and that will be followed by a Test tour of India, home series against New Zealand and South Africa and Test trips to South Africa and England.
"I know the selectors and Cricket Australia are very conscious of our workload, and we've got some big series coming up," Ponting told AAP. "The selectors are very mindful of making sure that we've got the best players on the paddock for those big series, and I think in the next 12 to 18 months you'll probably see more players having a break when we feel it's appropriate."
That will almost certainly mean more opportunities for players like Shaun Marsh, David Hussey and Cameron White, who will be trialed in the West Indies one-dayers. Marsh and Shane Watson are likely to be the first opening combination tested but there is also an important bowling role up for grabs - that of a specialist spinner to replace Hogg. Ponting wants White to step up in the Caribbean.
"There's no question that the spin bowling department in both forms of the game for us is going to be a challenge," Ponting said. "White's obviously been picked as the spinner on this tour. We just need to keep exposing him to different situations and putting him under a bit more pressure. Hopefully he plays a big role for us during the series."
It is a big ask of White, whose legspin was eagerly watched when he started his state career at 17, but he has since turned into a middle-order batsman who bowls a bit. He is not Victoria's first-choice spinner in any form of the game and in nine domestic one-day matches last summer he picked up six wickets at 51.16 with an economy rate of 5.01.
Should he struggle with the ball, Australia might have to think about another domestic slow bowler, or instead make greater use of part-timers like Michael Clarke and Andrew Symonds. At least if the openers fail there are plenty of others lining up to take those spots, including Clarke and James Hopes. These are the questions Australia are hoping the ODI series, which begins in St Vincent on Tuesday, will go some way to answering.
Regardless of Australia's evolving line-up and the fact that West Indies should regain Chris Gayle, Ramnaresh Sarwan and Shivarine Chanderpaul, who all missed Friday's Twenty20 international, Ponting expects his side to triumph. "It was a tough contest in the Test matches, and the shorter the format, often the tighter the competition is," Ponting said.
"If Gayle is fit for the one-dayers he obviously adds a lot to their side. Their bowling group will be pretty steady for the one-dayers, but in saying that our one-day side stacks up pretty well against most around the world. I'd expect us to win the series that's for sure."
West Indies' team manager Omar Khan said Sarwan's groin injury was about 70% healed and they were keen to add him to the side that beat Australia in the Twenty20 match. However, West Indies know it would be foolish to take any chances if there is a possibility Sarwan will exacerbate the problem.
"Any team having three players like Gayle, Sarwan and Chanderpaul coming in will be boosted tremendously and the team will be going into the opening clash a confident bunch," Khan told CMC. "We are not going to risk any of our players who are injured because this is a five-match series and we want the best out of the players."