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Australia's twin ambitions: win the ODIs, prepare for Tests

Injuries have altered plans, but Andrew McDonald is keen for players to be in action rather than carrying drinks

Andrew McGlashan
Andrew McGlashan
While the ODI series is their next focus, Australia have twin ambitions over the next couple of weeks in Sri Lanka as they look to take advantage of a world returning to something closer to normal after the many restrictions of the last two years.
For the first time since the 2019 tour of England, the Australia A side is overseas and while the main group are engaged in five ODIs they will be playing two four-day matches against Sri Lanka A in Hambantota having completed two one-dayers in Colombo that were shared one apiece.
The hope is that over the next fortnight as many players as possible can see actual match time rather than be running drinks, although some plans have had to be altered after the injuries to Mitchell Starc (finger) and Mitchell Marsh (calf) in the ODI squad.
The most notable decision so far has been to send Travis Head with the A squad for the opening four-day match. He scored a one-day century off 76 balls against Sri Lanka A on Friday to continue his stellar white-ball form following a terrific return to the ODI side in Pakistan, but with David Warner and Steven Smith available again he has been forced aside although there remains a chance he could feature later in the series.
"He's pushing hard for selection," head coach Andrew McDonald said. "He got an opportunity in Pakistan and took that with some brilliant ball-striking. Davey comes back into that spot and Steve Smith comes back in as well so there's two big inclusions so he has to bide his time at the moment.
"We see the opportunity for him to get some really good match opportunity within that A game building into the Test series so that's equally important, his exposure to subcontinent conditions. So that's been the messaging, the guys on deck over here we'd prefer to see then playing than running drinks.
"It's shifted in terms of having a couple of injuries so it's changed our initial thinking. There is some desire to make sure our players are playing cricket when they are here…it's about making sure we haven't got people sitting on the bench two or three deep in that skillset and just lingering around. We don't see that as a benefit to anyone."
Cameron Green and Alex Carey featured in the first one-day game for Australia A - with Green scoring an unbeaten hundred - and further mingling between the squads will be assessed after the first two ODIs in Pallekele when the series returns to Colombo.
In another sign of Australia's planning for the Test series, Green will be eased into bowling on the tour and won't be used with the ball in the first two ODIs. He will have a crucial part to play in balancing the side in Galle and the outside chance remains of three spinners being considered.
"He's important, that allrounder capability gives you the flexibility to potentially pick three spinners - not sure which way we'll land, we'll wait until we get to Galle - but his bowling is important to this team," McDonald said. "We saw it in Pakistan and we saw it in the Ashes. It's important that we manage him along with the rest of our fast bowlers; when they are fit and available they are a very good combination so we want to protect that the best we can."
Another player who could benefit from a red-ball game before the Test series is legspinner Mitchell Swepson, who is again set to partner Nathan Lyon, but he may feature in the ODIs and could have to make do with red-ball specific training.
"We are confident the coaching staff can prepare players whether it be through a match opportunity or whether through scenario training," McDonald said. "He [Swepson] may get the opportunity to play in the one-day internationals so competitive cricket is always a benefit. You've seen over the last 12 months that we haven't always had match opportunities in the lead-in to series.
"It's something the players are used to so we are confident that whether it's with Australia A or here in the one-day internationals that we'll be able to get the players prepared the best we can come the first Test."
There is, though, an ODI World Cup in less than 18 months which is also very central in McDonald's plans now he has taken the head coach role permanently.
"We haven't played a lot of one-day cricket so the build-up to 2023 is really important," he said. "We feel as though we have some really good plans in place to play a few different ways come 2023. We don't know which personnel will be available, who'll be injured at that time, so you have to cover all bases so it's about building our capabilities in certain areas, making sure we don't leave ourselves short, but also concentrating on winning games of cricket which is important."

Andrew McGlashan is a deputy editor at ESPNcricinfo