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Analysis

Marsh's opening heroics compound questions for Australia

With Marsh, Warner and Head in the mix, Australia face a problem of plenty in the opening department

Andrew McGlashan
Andrew McGlashan
23-Mar-2023
Mitchell Marsh finding a new spot in the batting order in a World Cup year. We've been here before. His success opening against India, initially in place of the injured David Warner, mirrored his rise to No. 3 in T20I side during 2021 and was the most interesting subplot to emerge from Australia's impressive 2-1 series win.
When Warner returned for the decider in Chennai it was he who moved down the order, not opening in an ODI for just the second time in his 142-match career. Marsh again shone with a run-a-ball 47, which became Australia's top score in what proved a match-winning total borne from a collective team effort.
Australia had said all along that they would experiment in this series with an eye on formulating plans ahead of the ODI World Cup in October. However, of the questions that could have been posed, whether Warner should open the batting was probably not one of them. It remains likely he will be back in that position later in the year, but it could now be a ticklish decision for the selectors: Marsh is well suited to exploiting the fielding restrictions while Travis Head's best position is also opening.
"I certainly enjoyed the opportunity to open the batting," Marsh said after being named Player of the Series. "But as a group we spoke before the first game that this really the start of our campaign for the World Cup and certain guys are going to bat in different positions at times and it's really important we have a squad mentality. With Davey out for the first couple of games it was my opportunity. He's been an incredible player for Australia for a long time and probably one of the best ODI openers ever so I'm sure he'll slot back in at some stage but think it's really important that we are all flexible and it was nice to perform for the team."

Marcus Stoinis: new-ball bowler

Marsh was unable to bowl in this series as he continues to take a cautious approach after the ankle surgery he underwent in November. It meant a greater role for Marcus Stoinis in the first and third matches where he shared the new ball with Mitchell Starc, the first time in his career he had done so. With Cameron Green ill for the decider he became one of the three pace bowlers and conceded less than five an over.
Since last year, Australia have been experimenting with their many allrounders, meaning a batter has sometimes been at No. 8, with an eye on it being a potential World Cup plan. If Stoinis can be relied upon for 10 overs when needed - both in terms of his form and body - it makes it a more viable option.
In terms of the specialist bowlers, Starc and Adam Zampa showed their importance to the one-day side and are the two figures the rest of the attack is built around.
ODI captain Pat Cummins missed the series following the death of his mother. Steven Smith again earned plaudits for his stand-in role, especially in the final game during which R Ashwin tweeted, "Steve Smith and captaincy is a match made in heaven", but barring a major backflip Cummins will lead at the World Cup and partner Starc as the frontline quicks.

Is Marnus Labuschagne under pressure in ODIs?

It leaves Josh Hazlewood potentially struggling to find a place in the starting XI. He is due to return to action in the IPL with Royal Challengers Bangalore after flying home from the Test tour with an Achilles injury. For Hazlewood, the first priority will be getting himself right for the World Test Championship final and Ashes.
Glenn Maxwell only featured in the first ODI after which he felt the effects from the badly broken leg he suffered in November. He is also at RCB and will hope T20 is a more manageable workload.
Marnus Labuschagne was used at No. 4 and No. 5 across the two innings he played and remains the most vulnerable of the frontline batters amid the push for the allrounders.
In the bowling, Sean Abbott impressed across all three games while Nathan Ellis was excellent in his one outing. It will be a squeeze, however, for both to find World Cup spots.
Ashton Agar gave a show of his character in the decider in what was his first appearance of a tour which saw him head home midway through the Test series. His 2 for 41 was a vital part of Australia's victory as he removed Virat Kohli and Suryakumar Yadav in consecutive balls. "Ashton Agar changed the game," Zampa said after being named Player of the Match. "I don't think I deserve this tonight."
Australia have another ODI series against South Africa in late August before they will need to name their World Cup squad, albeit conditions in a Highveld winter will be a vast difference to what they will face in October and November. There are then more matches against India which act as warm-ups before the tournament - it will be fascinating to see how the team compares to the one that has just won a series.

Andrew McGlashan is a deputy editor at ESPNcricinfo