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Australia set to experiment in Pakistan, as build-up to 2023 World Cup begins

They last played an ODI in July 2021, and on top of that, will have numerous first-choice names missing

Alex Malcolm
Alex Malcolm
Australia have won each of the ODI series in the Super League so far by a 2-1 margin  •  Getty Images

Australia have won each of the ODI series in the Super League so far by a 2-1 margin  •  Getty Images

"Didn't I?" Australia's last ODI was so long ago that captain Aaron Finch didn't even know he did not play in it when asked about returning to ODI cricket after a long absence prior to arriving in Pakistan. Australia last played an ODI against West Indies in July 2021, and they have only played three since December 2020.
They are set to begin building towards the 2023 ODI World Cup this week with a three-match series in Pakistan. But if the Australian captain himself didn't know who was part of Australia's last ODI XI, then it is likely everyone needs to be brought up to speed.
Who played in Australia's last ODI team?
If you can name the XI from Bridgetown, then you truly are an Australian cricket aficionado. Or alternatively, you watch far too much cricket. Finch did not play due to a knee injury despite thinking he did.
A lot of Australia's big guns were rested after the fallout from the 2021 IPL postponement. Alex Carey captained Australia for the first time and did so with distinction, leading them to a 2-1 series win in the West Indies. Josh Philippe and Moises Henriques had opened the batting the last time Australia played - seriously? - while Matthew Wade, Ashton Turner and Dan Christian were all in that side too. However, none of the five feature on this tour to Pakistan.
So who will be playing in the ODI series in Pakistan?
It might be easier to tell you who is not playing. David Warner, Pat Cummins, Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood, Glenn Maxwell, Steven Smith and Kane Richardson are the notable members of Australia's first-choice squad that will be missing the ODI series. All bar Starc and Hazlewood had missed the last series in the West Indies too. Warner, Cummins and Hazlewood have been rested after the Test tour ahead of playing in the IPL.
Meanwhile, Maxwell will not be touring since he got married only last week. Richardson was set to play but injured his hamstring at training in Melbourne before the limited-overs players left for Pakistan. And now Smith too has been ruled out of the series due to an elbow issue.
Jhye Richardson was also left out of the squad as part of a long-term management strategy, but also got injured in Western Australia's recent Marsh Cup final win over New South Wales.
Thus, there are multiple new names who have not played ODI cricket before, including Sean Abbott, Ben Dwarshuis, Nathan Ellis, Josh Inglis and Mitchell Swepson. Cameron Green has played just one game, while Travis Head has not played ODI cricket since 2018.
What will the batting look like?
Possibly an experiment. Finch will need an opening partner in the absence of Warner, after Ben McDermott missed out in his only two ODIs in the West Indies and didn't take his chance while opening in the recent five-match T20I series against Sri Lanka either.
Head has an ODI century opening the batting against Pakistan and actually has a good record at the top of the order, averaging 41.08 and striking at 97.04 in 12 innings as opener, including four 50-plus scores. Since he was dropped by Australia in 2018, Head's List A performances have been incredible. In 23 matches, he averages 59.65 and strikes at 120.62 with three centuries, including his second career double; but all of those innings have been played either at No. 3 or at 4.
Marnus Labuschagne opened in his last ODI innings in December 2020, but his other 11 innings - which include a century and three fifties - have come at No. 4 or lower.
Mitchell Marsh would love to bat No. 3 again as he did in the T20 World Cup and in two of Australia's last three ODIs. Inglis has made a case to bat in the middle order after a superb T20I debut series against Sri Lanka. But Marcus Stoinis and Carey look mainstays in Australia's lower middle order in their best available team in Pakistan. Green could also be used at No. 6 or 7 depending on how Australia want to structure their bowling attack.
And the bowling?
It will be a big test without Cummins, Starc, Hazlewood and the two Richardsons on flat batting tracks in Lahore. Australia look set to rely heavily on the spin duo of Adam Zampa and Ashton Agar, and maybe use just two quicks and their allrounders to bowl the remainder of the overs.
Swepson has also been added to the squad if they want a third specialist spinner or two legspinners in the XI. Jason Behrendorff has the most experience of the quicks, having played in the last World Cup. Along with Behrendorff, Dwarshuis provides a second left-arm option after being a late addition to the squad.
Australia may play one left-armer and one right-armer, with Abbott and Ellis likely to get an opportunity at some stage.
Do results matter for Australia with so many players out?
They do. Australia have won all three series they have played in the current World Cup Super League cycle, having beaten England, India and West Indies - each 2-1 - to have six wins and three losses. But they currently sit at seventh on the points table by virtue of having played only nine games.
Australia have eight guaranteed ODIs scheduled in the next four months - the three against Pakistan will be followed by five against Sri Lanka - and all of them away from home. While their No.1 Test ranking is a priority and they will continue to rest their Test stars, the understudies won't want to fall asleep at the wheel and put the team under unnecessary pressure heading towards the World Cup in India next year.
Australia squad: Aaron Finch (capt), Sean Abbott, Ashton Agar, Jason Behrendorff, Alex Carey (wk), Ben Dwarshuis, Nathan Ellis, Cameron Green, Travis Head, Josh Inglis (wk), Marnus Labuschagne, Mitchell Marsh, Ben McDermott, Marcus Stoinis, Mitchell Swepson, Adam Zampa

Alex Malcolm is an Associate Editor at ESPNcricinfo