Australia in trial mode as Clarke returns
Sunday, August 31, 2014
Start time 0930 local (0730 GMT)
Sunday's match between Australia and Zimbabwe kicks off the second round of league matches in the triangular series but the approaches and mindsets of both teams are likely to be at opposite ends of the confidence spectrum. While Zimbabwe are yet to win a match, Australia have had one clinical victory against the hosts before they were out-batted by South Africa in a high-scoring game.
Australia will be boosted by the return of Michael Clarke, after he was sidelined by a hamstring injury at a practice session before the start of the series. The game against Zimbabwe will be a good chance for him to ease back into international cricket after a gap of nearly six months.
South Africa's thumping seven-wicket win last week, where they chased 328, and Prosper Utseya's five-for on Friday would have underlined the fact that Australia have not used their spin resources properly in the triangular series so far. Nathan Lyon was dropped for the game against South Africa, where Faf du Plessis and AB de Villiers toyed with the bowling that had part-time spin options in Glenn Maxwell and Steven Smith. Australia are keen to set that aspect right before a game against South Africa later next week and, possibly, the final. They have opted to rest Mitchell Johnson and give Lyon a chance.
For Zimbabwe, the tournament is now about ensuring they don't end up as a team simply making up the numbers for the opposition. Few teams can restrict the current South African batting line-up to 231 but the end result, instead of embellishing Utseya's remarkable hat-trick, only drew attention to Zimbabwe's batting failures. In their last five ODIs, Zimbabwe have crossed 200 only once and scores of 152 and 170 in this series have shown that despite the odd knock from Hamilton Masakadza or Sean Williams, Zimbabwe's batsmen have been prone to wasting their starts when they get one and have struggled to bat around one individual in the team. A spot in the final is not impossible - a bonus-point win over Australia on Sunday could make the race for one of the two final places interesting. For Zimbabwe, the series also about the smaller milestones - an upset win, a cohesive batting display against a top opposition - that can do wonders for their confidence before an overseas tour and the run-up to the World Cup.
In the spotlight
Sikandar Raza has had scores of 33 and 35 in two games so far. The big knock, however, has been absent due to poor shots that have led to soft dismissals, a luxury the Zimbabwe batting line-up cannot afford at the moment.
On the eve of the game, Michael Clarke stated that Mitchell Marsh could open the bowling for Australia against Zimbabwe. It's one of the roles that Rod Marsh, Cricket Australia's chairman of selectors, had outlined for the allrounder, who can bowl fast. His batting has also been gaining plaudits. Marsh started the series with a brisk 89 against Zimbabwe - his maiden ODI fifty - after being moved up to No. 3. Marsh could move down to No. 6 against Zimbabwe, following Clarke's return.
Apart from Michael Clarke and Nathan Lyon, Australia have also brought in Ben Cutting in place of Kane Richardson.
Australia 1 Aaron Finch, 2 Phil Hughes, 3 Michael Clarke (capt), 4 George Bailey, 5 Glenn Maxwell, 6 Mitchell Marsh, 7 Brad Haddin (wk), 8 James Faulkner, 9 Ben Cutting, 10 Mitchell Starc, 11 Nathan Lyon
Zimbabwe might contemplate bringing in Vusi Sibanda following the failures of Tino Mawoyo at the top of the order. Sibanda has not played a game since the first ODI of the bilateral series against South Africa earlier this month.
Zimbabwe (probable) 1 Tino Mawoyo/Vusi Sibanda, 2 Sikandar Raza, 3 Hamilton Masakadza, 4 Brendan Taylor (wk), 5 Sean Williams, 6 Malcolm Waller, 7 Elton Chigumbura (capt), 8, Prosper Utseya, 9 John Nyumbu, 10 Tendai Chatara, 11 Brian Vitori
Pitch and conditions
With the Harare Sports Club hosting all games of the triangular series, there could be an effect on the pitches and they may get a little slower. According to Clarke, the game could be played on a used track, which can make spin a key factor.
Stats and trivia
- In seven games this year, Aaron Finch has already hit three hundreds in an aggregate of 427 runs. Hashim Amla, who has also played seven ODIs, and Kumar Sangakkara have also scored three ODI hundreds each so far this year, although Sangakkara has played 18 games
- In 23 games between 2013 and 2014, Zimbabwe have been bowled out for a score of less than 200 on 10 occasions
Quotes"He hasn't had much of an opportunity in this series batting at six and seven, but he was picked in the [tournament's] first squad as well so he'll obviously be very disappointed."
Michael Clarke on Steven Smith's exclusion
Rachna Shetty is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo