Coach Justin Langer says there is no opportunity to rest his weary senior players with each series as important as the next as Australia continue to search for their best T20I and ODI combinations.
Australia travelled home from South Africa on Sunday after being trounced 3-0 in the ODI series. They did win the preceding T20I series 2-1. But there is no chance to rest as they head straight to Sydney for a three-game ODI series against New Zealand which ends in Hobart on March 20, followed by a three-match T20I series in New Zealand starting on March 24 in Dunedin.
The majority of Australia's senior players, with the exception of Mitchell Starc, will then head to India for the IPL.
Langer conceded his senior men who play all three forms for Australia, including Steven Smith, David Warner, Pat Cummins and Starc are feeling the pinch.
"The truth is we've got some weary boys at the moment, particularly our senior players," Langer said after the third ODI in Potchefstroom.
"They play so much cricket. When you think about what they've done since we started the World Cup, they went straight from the IPL, which is almost a year ago, straight to the World Cup, straight to the Ashes, straight to what has been a golden summer for us until probably these last three one-dayers. We've got some weary boys. We know we've got six more games to play and then they've got to go again."
Australia rested Cummins and Starc from the third ODI after the series had already been lost in South Africa. Starc was given leave to head home early to watch his wife Alyssa Healy play in the Women's T20 World Cup final in Melbourne.
But both are preparing to play in Friday's first ODI against New Zealand at the SCG. Langer said there is currently no room in the schedule to pick and choose when players rest.
"The challenge is, which series is less important," Langer said. "Because South Africa here is a really important series. Coming back after [what happened] two years ago, that was a really important series for us. And I've got to say it's been a great series or a great time here both in the hospitality, the way we've been treated, the way everyone has looked after us has been brilliant. So that's an important series.
"Then we play New Zealand who made the World Cup final. They're a very good team and great rivals so that becomes a pretty important series. The T20s we're pushing for the World Cup, so that's a pretty important series. So there's not too many now in international cricket where you think maybe we can take the foot off it, because as soon as you do get beaten like we have today and it's a terrible feeling being beaten."
Australia were beaten comprehensively in the ODI series, failing to make more than 271 in any of the three games. They have now lost seven of their last eight ODIs dating back to the final pool game in the 2019 World Cup against South Africa at Old Trafford. South Africa have also beaten Australia in six of the last seven ODI meetings since Langer took over as coach in 2018, and 11 of the last 12 dating back to September 2016.
"The truth is we've got a bit of an eye to the T20 World Cup. Obviously, we've got two [T20 World Cups] in a row," Langer said. "We've still got another four years until the next one-day World Cup. That said, we haven't played good enough cricket. It's very disappointing. South Africa, it reminded me a bit of great German soccer teams, they're so disciplined, they're so fit, and their processes are just so disciplined all the time. They've got the better of us in one-day cricket so far, for some time now, and we respect how they play their one-day cricket and they were too good for us this last three.
"We've got to work out. I think England are showing their cards a bit about how they're playing their one-day cricket with a bigger picture view. So, we'll have those discussions in the next few weeks. We've probably learned lessons from that in the past as well when the guys are playing all three forms, and playing IPL, how we keep them really sharp. We know how brilliant cricketers they are, but even the best of the best, staying 100% sharp all the time is really hard to do. They're mentally tough guys but it's a real challenge for us."
Australia have selected the same squad for the series against New Zealand with the exception of Jhye Richardson, who has been released to play the Sheffield Shield for Western Australia.
Alex Malcolm is a freelance writer based in Melbourne