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News Analysis

Australia's test of endurance begins in bid for a Grand Slam

It is already accepted that Meg Lanning's team has enviable depth and they are likely to need it over the next year

Andrew McGlashan
Andrew McGlashan
It's one of sports many clichés that players don't look too far ahead and only take each match as it comes. So let's do it on behalf of Australia.
The opening ODI against India in Mackay on Tuesday marks the start of an unprecedented period of 12 (or even 18) months of international cricket. There's an Ashes series in January, an ODI World Cup in March and a first appearance at the Commonwealth Games in July. Then, in early 2023, there will be the defence of their T20 World Cup title. Cricket's unofficial Grand Slam is on the line.
The major focus is the 50-over World Cup after their often-referenced semi-final exit at the hands of Harmanpreet Kaur and India in 2017. But they will be desperate for multi-format success - which includes two Tests in the season - and to have a gold medal around their necks in Birmingham.
Their depth will be tested like never before, even including when they lost Ellyse Perry during the T20 World Cup having also seen Tayla Vlaeminck sidelined just days before it began. There is a good chance that the majority of the 18 players in the squad to face India will get a game over the next three weeks. When you add back in Megan Schutt and Jess Jonassen that's 20 names who are likely to feature extensively, but they may need to delve further into the domestic game. The WBBL, a key part in building Australia's depth, starts shortly after this series.
The ODI side is on a world-record 24-match unbeaten run which dates back to 2018. That will, eventually, come to an end - it may even be in Mackay this week - but the priority will be that when that arrives it does not derail a campaign as it did four years ago. At the moment it would be a brave person to bet against an Australia title in Christchurch on April 3 but India, defending champions England and South Africa have the potential to stand in their way. The ODI gap from Australia to the rest has widened since the last World Cup and for the good of the game they need to be caught.
The first-choice top six can be picked blindfolded (Alyssa Healy, Rachael Haynes, Meg Lanning, Perry, Beth Mooney and Ash Gardner) but it will be interesting to see if Georgia Redmayne and Tahlia McGrath get opportunities, or Annabel Sutherland has another chance to bat up the order having stood in for Lanning at No. 3 against New Zealand last year. There is a reluctance from Lanning and Matthew Mott to hand out caps for the sake of it - and points-based multi-format series add to the importance of each match - but expanding the amount of international experience for others can bring benefits later.
That will happen naturally with the bowling attack which provides most intrigue given the absences and injuries (Vlaeminck won't play until the T20Is and Nicola Carey has had an abdominal strain). It will be just the second time since 2012 that Australia have fielded an ODI XI without Schutt and Jonassen. Regardless of where she bats, Sutherland should get a run in the side while left-arm spinner Sophie Molineux has the chance to reestablish herself in Jonassen's absence. The pace bowlers will be rotated throughout to manage workload; the speed of Darcie Brown and bounce of the uncapped Stella Campbell is generating the most interest.
Of the specialist pace bowlers, only Darcie Brown did not have to do 14 days hard quarantine. "There were a few nervous medical people but everyone's pulled up really well," Lanning said.
The Test match later in the month, Australia's first since the 2019 Ashes, has various unknown quantities: the pink-ball day-night factor, the lack of preparation, the pitch at Metricon Stadium, and how bowler workloads will be managed. Mott has said that the team has spoken about playing "one-day cricket for four days" which, given how Australia play one-day cricket, is an exciting prospect.
It will be the first time since 2006 that the two teams have met in the format - in a sign of their remarkable longevity both Mithali Raj and Jhulan Goswami played that game in Adelaide - and Australia have not played in India since 1984 when a four-match series was drawn 0-0. It is to be hoped that changes in the not-to-distant future.
Test cricket will be a focal point of this season and the context of the points-based system is a way for it to be a more regular part of the women's game between those sides able to sustain it. Covid-19 remains a huge challenge but hopefully in years to come this busy Australian season will be seen as the norm.

Andrew McGlashan is a deputy editor at ESPNcricinfo