The second One Day International fixture between England and Australia kicks off tonight at Old Trafford. This portion of the tour seems entirely inconsequential and, frankly, a bit of a waste of time and thus it is difficult to get excited about it. That said, it is an important game for some players on the fringe of selection for the main focus of English and Australian cricket fans coming up in 74 days’ time so it is worth looking at least to see how those players perform.
Neither team has named its final line-up. That said it is a big game for:
· Fawad Ahmed: I have not been a fan of Ahmed’s selection and his fast tracked citizenship. Equally I am intrigued to see how he reacts to the public pressure that has come from his request (granted by Cricket Australia) to not be forced to wear the sponsors logo on his shirt. John Inverarity clearly has him the heart of his plans for the Ashes so another solid performance for him here will be another building bloke in building his case for promotion ahead of Nathan Lyon.
· Michael Clarke: Darren Lehmann has been overt about his view that so long as Clarke is fit he will play. I have to say that every time I see Clarke in the line-up for games that mean nothing I fear he is one game closer to hurting his back and being out of the Ashes series. It is a big game for Clarke to ensure that he does not get hurt: he is that important to the return Ashes series.
· George Bailey: Is only 112 runs away from reaching 1000 runs in one day cricket. There is a gap in Australia’s test match batting line-up at number 6 (or number 5 if Steve Smith moves down the order) so a hundred in this fixture would not only push him over an important milestone but could push him to the forefront of the selectors minds for that vacant slot.
· Steven Finn: Had a test series to forget and was promptly dropped after the first test at Nottingham. He gets his chance to push for a tour to Australia for the return series where one would expect his bowling to more suited to the conditions than they were in England. It has to be said though that Finn often leaks runs and it was obvious that when he bowled at Nottingham any pressure on Australia’s batters was released. He will need to do better in this ODI series to convince those who doubt him in the English set up that he is up to the task in Australia.
· Eoin Morgan: Captaining England in the absence of Alistair Cook, among others, Morgan secured an easy victory an easy victory against Ireland with a quality hundred. Morgan has had a truncated career for England in test matches having not played for England since its series against Pakistan in Dubai. The added pressure of captaincy could play a role in his form in this form of the game, however if he does perform under that pressure he may find himself back in the frame for a test birth.
The last time England and Australia faced each other:
· In this form of the game, England thrashed Australia in the Champions Trophy by 48 runs (exactly 3 months ago) off the back of an inspired bowling performance from Messrs Anderson and Broad (neither of whom are playing in this series).
· At this ground, the rain conspired against Australia as it pressed for what would have been a victory that kept the Ashes series alive for it but only lead to a draw that saw the English retain the Ashes.
Given the changes that have been made to the England line up for this series, the bookmakers have installed Australia as favourites to take the series and this game. I, for one, am less confident. Only time will tell.