England-Australia encounters, even outside of the Ashes, rarely come without a bit of circus accompaniment – but this standalone five-match ODI series has big-top potential, particularly after England’s unexpected rumbling in Edinburgh at the weekend. “We think it’s going to be pretty full on,” said Australia’s captain Tim Paine on arrival, adding that he expected his team would “cop a little bit of a ribbing” after the events of their tour of South Africa a few months ago; if so, they only need whistle a few bars of “Flower of Scotland” by way of response.
Justin Langer, Australia’s new coach, met questions about team culture head on before the series, promising that his team would continue to sledge – just as he does playing cards against his daughter – but clarifying “there is a difference between banter and abuse”. England were unhappy about some of the on-field comments on their tour during the winter, but they have the opportunity to riff on Australia’s pain (should they choose to) after the Cape Town ball-tampering affair that has ruled out Steven Smith – captain when the teams last met – and David Warner.
The crowds will almost certainly get involved, with sandpaper references already visible during the preceding Test series with Pakistan. Nathan Lyon, at least, had the perfect rejoinder when asked what he had in his pocket down in Hove: “just the Ashes, mate.”
All this is without mentioning the actual cricket. England beat Australia 4-1 away from home a matter of months ago, and recently rose to No. 1 in the rankings (not that it helped them a jot against Scotland). Eoin Morgan‘s team have played a fearless brand of cricket over the last three years, with the 2019 World Cup fixed in their crosshairs, but have also crashed and burned on more than one occasion in that time. If they are going to wear the favourites tag comfortably next summer, they need to eliminate such high-profile missteps
For the tourists, time is running out on how to plan their World Cup defence – something scarcely helped by the enforced absences of Smith and Warner until a few weeks before the tournament begins. Langer was quickly installed as Darren Lehmann’s replacement, while Paine has assumed responsibility almost by default after his mature displays in South Africa, but there are numerous questions over the team they will field, not least because of the injury-enforced absence of their three senior bowlers, Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood and Pat Cummins.
Paine will look to the experience of Aaron Finch – who has scored five of his 10 ODI hundreds against England – and Glenn Maxwell (despite a run of poor form), as well as players such as Lyon and Shaun Marsh who have been on previous Ashes tours of England. There is certainly talent among the bowling group, with Billy Stanlake demonstrating fearsome pace and bounce during the T20 tri-series earlier in the year, though England’s one-day tracks have been unforgiving environments in recent seasons.
All signs suggest England will continue to play high-wire one-day cricket – they did, after all, nearly complete the joint-second highest ODI chase on Sunday – but they have had a painful reminder that the trapeze act comes with inherent risk. The circus is about to begin again, but both teams would rather their cricket did the talking over the next two weeks.
England LWLWW(last five completed matches, most recent first)
In the spotlight
They are missing their attack leader (Chris Woakes) and a vital allrounder (Ben Stokes) but England’s pace attack looked worryingly blunt against Scotland on a flat Grange deck. Mark Wood was unable to push the speed gun much above mid-80s mph, and now averages 46.50 after 27 ODIs; David Willey found no swing and again looked unthreatening (despite a decent comeback at the death); and even the usually reliable Liam Plunkett bled runs throughout the innings. England’s batting is often able to match whatever the opposition puts up – but it is a high-risk strategy.
There is much expectation around Billy Stanlake after he had batsmen hopping during the T20 tri-series against England and New Zealand earlier this year. His pace was on show in the warm-up against Middlesex and he appears locked in as part of the bowling attack that still has many questions over it. Ashton Agar said he was looking forward to Stanlake hopefully “ripping through” England and Langer also built him up. “He’s a very very bright prospect obviously, and over time he’ll get stronger in his body and get fitter,” the coach said.
England will welcome back Jos Buttler, who was rested for Edinburgh, but are still without the injured Stokes and Woakes. None of the bowlers came off well against Scotland and one of Tom Curran or Jake Ball stand a chance of coming into the XI, possibly at the expense of Willey.
England: (possible) 1 Jonny Bairstow, 2 Jason Roy, 3 Alex Hales, 4 Joe Root, 5 Eoin Morgan (capt), 6 Jos Buttler (wk), 7 Moeen Ali, 8 Adil Rashid, 9 Liam Plunkett, 10 Tom Curran/David Willey/Jake Ball, 11 Mark Wood
Langer said he would have sleepless nights trying firm up Australia’s combination. There are a number of routes he could go, with questions over where Aaron Finch bats and the make-up of the pace attack. He has suggested he prefers the extra bowling option and Maxwell’s poor form could leave him vulnerable if Finch takes a middle-order role. There could be ODI debuts for D’arcy Short and Michael Neser.
Australia: (possible) 1 D’arcy Short, 2 Travis Head, 3 Marcus Stoinis, 4 Shaun Marsh, 5 Aaron Finch, 6 Tim Paine (capt & wk), 7 Ashton Agar, 8 Michael Neser, 9 Jhye Richardson, 10 Kane Richardson, 11 Billy Stanlake
Pitch and conditions
The Oval tends to be good for batting whatever the format, and there have been 10 300-plus ODI scores on the ground since 2015. Given recent dry weather, there might, however, be some purchase for spin. The forecast for Tuesday is warm and cloudy, but don’t expect the white Kookaburra to swing.
Stats and trivia
Morgan needs 110 runs to overtake Ian Bell as England’s leading run-scorer in ODIs.
Before defeat to Scotland, England had won six bilateral one-day series in a row.
Australia’s last ODI victory at The Oval came in 2010. Since then, they have suffered two defeats and a no-result.
Jonny Bairstow has three hundreds in consecutive innings – only two players have four in all ODIs: Kumar Sangakkara and Amy Satterthwaite
“Our bowlers missed their lengths and lines a little bit and with the bat we didn’t play as good cricket as we would have liked.”
Eoin Morgan on the Scotland defeat
“Obviously they would have liked to have won the other day but if anything we saw once again just how dangerous their batting can be. We know we’re going to have to be at our absolute best.I’m sure they’ll come back better for what happened in Scotland.”