In Pat Cummins, Australia has a fast bowler no nation wants to face. Cummins has adjusted his temperament to the shorter format and is capable of torpedoing any top order. Just who will partner him, however, remains questionable. Mitchell Starc (pectoral muscle), Josh Hazlewood (back) and Jhye Richardson (shoulder) will have to prove their fitness. Hazlewood has played only six ODIs since January, 2018, and has not played a match of significance since the Sydney Test against India. He says he is on track but is he a walk-up start?
Starc has had a set back and it is unclear when he will be back to full pace. Richardson will know more after visiting a specialist in the next week or so. Should all be fit, the wily Nathan Coulter-Nile should round out the pace battery. Leggie Adam Zampa is in career-best form while Nathan Lyon has not hurt his own hopes.
Aaron Finch was never going to be axed, for there is far more to his captaincy than scoring runs. He was able to preside over a winning side in India despite one major score himself and has since come good. Australia always needed a rock of a leader with David Warner and Steve Smith returning, and Finch is that man.
This shapes as the toughest of debates. Warner has been superb on his return in the Indian Premier League, completing a century on Sunday night. If it was my call, I would open with Warner and Finch. Warner can crunch any attack and manipulate a field, depending on the situation. Usman Khawaja has rubber-stamped his spot through his deeds at the top of the order (655 runs at 65.5 in his past 10 innings) but he is more of an accumulator, so can slot into No.3. Selectors know they need a balance of accumulators and potential bashers, so that top three works well. Steve Smith is also an automatic recall at No.4, leaving a tight squeeze in the middle order. Shaun Marsh (211 runs at 35 through India and the UAE) and Peter Handscomb (328 at 41), the latter able to double as a back-up gloveman, appear to be vying for the one spot. In my view, Victorian Handscomb gets the nod.
The hard-hitting Marcus Stoinis, who craves taking the ball at the death, has the fast-bowling slot. Glenn Maxwell, having flourished with bat, ball and in more of a leadership role, takes on the spinning duties.
The final word:
“There are going to be one or two guys brutally unlucky because they’re all going so well. There’s obviously going to be a couple of really disappointed players … all the blokes in the squad at the moment will be praying it’s not them.”
– coach-selector Justin Langer
My 15-man squad:
Batsmen: Aaron Finch (capt), David Warner, Usman Khawaja, Steve Smith, Peter Handscomb.
Wicketkeeper: Alex Carey.
Allrounders: Marcus Stoinis, Glenn Maxwell.
Fast bowlers: Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood, Pat Cummins, Jhye Richardson, Nathan Coulter-Nile.
Spinners: Adam Zampa, Nathan Lyon.
Jon Pierik is a sports writer with The Age, focusing primarily on AFL football, cricket and basketball. He has won awards for his cricket and basketball writing.