Men's ODI World Cup 2019

Finch takes big gains from Cup camp

Returns to form of Smith and Starc highs of Brisbane camp ahead of World Cup campaign

Andrew Ramsey at AB Field

11 May 2019, 11:30 AM AEST

With the possible exception of a sizeable score from David Warner, Australia's men's team reaped pretty much all they had hoped from their three unofficial ODIs against New Zealand in Brisbane this week.

 

Which was timely given Aaron Finch's squad boarded an Istanbul-bound plane last night and then – following a two-day visit to the solemn shores of the Gallipoli Peninsula en route to England – they are into the hurly burly of a World Cup following a preamble like no other.

The results of the matches against an NZ outfit boasting just five members of their World Cup squad were always going to be incidental.

Full highlights: Smith, Maxi on song

For the record, the Australia XI emerged 2-1 winners with the final fixture on Friday decided by Duckworth-Lewis calculations due to the sudden onset of Queensland winter darkness at 5pm, at which point the hosts were 16 runs ahead of the mandated target (of 232).

Rather, the aim of the week-long basic training camp was to reintegrate into competitive cricket the bulk of the Australian players who had been enjoying a deserved break since the completion of their ODI series against Pakistan in the UAE last March.

In the words of coach Justin Langer, and while not consciously referencing the team's imminent visit to the revered war theatre, the most crucial element his group must add between now and their tournament opener against Afghanistan on June 1 is 'battle hardness'.

For that reason, he didn't want any walkover wins, no soft losses or time lost to inclement weather to ease the players' workloads this week.

Under Langer's ideal scenario, Australia would be pushed to the brink by what was essentially a second-string NZ XI in all three matches, which was largely how the week panned out.

A last-gasp, final-wicket wicket win in the opener on Monday was followed by a convincing loss to the visitors on Wednesday, and Friday's result that looked set to go to the wire until the sun dipped below the horizon.

Those latter two matches afforded the chance for former skipper Steve Smith (89 not out off 77 balls and 91 not out off 108), and recently recovered fast bowler Mitchell Starc (2-14 from five overs and 1-35 from eight) to show they were ready to return to full combat roles.

Smith in superb touch as Cup beckons

Among the 15-man squad, they were the two players to have seen least action over the preceding months due to Smith's ongoing elbow injury and Starc's protracted rehabilitation from the pectoral strain he suffered during Australia's home Test summer.

Conversely, Warner has been the most productive player in the immediate past through his remarkable runs-scoring deeds with Sunrisers Hyderabad in the IPL, which mitigated any concerns potentially emanating from his returns of 39, 0 and 2 this week.

Although the annoyance the left-hander showed today when he edged the sixth delivery he faced to NZ wicketkeeper Tom Latham confirmed his appetite to score heavily remains unsated.

The combinations employed by the reigning World Cup holders enabled players to test themselves in a variety of positions within the batting and bowling order, and in a range of game scenarios as they emerged.

And as captain Aaron Finch, who stood aside from Friday's match to allow his deputy Alex Carey to take charge for the first time in Australian colours, there were added benefits that arose from staging the fixtures at Allan Border Field, and the adjacent Bupa National Cricket Centre.

"It's been great, it's been really productive," Finch said.

"To have the opportunity for guys … to get a lot of volume in with their training, even on game days when they were hitting up in the nets and keeping their workloads up, and with all the facilities here, it's unbelievable.

Finch satisfied with Cup warm-ups

"It's been a good chance for guys to get back into rhythm after a majority of them had a month off and laid pretty low in terms of cricket skills.

"Guys were pretty cooked and pretty fatigued and they deserved that break.

"So now it's just about time on legs and making sure we're getting back into the rhythm, doing the basics really well with what made us successful over those last two series (in India and the UAE).

"It's probably been a little bit slower getting back into it (and) there's probably still a little bit of rust around, which is understandable.

"But a couple of hard training days (before the NZ matches), three really good hit-outs against New Zealand and then three warm-up games in the UK (against West Indies, England and Sri Lanka before the tournament starts).

"I'm pretty sure we'll be ready to hit the ground running there."

Given events of the week, Australia will also take heart from the knowledge New Zealand – who they meet in their penultimate World Cup preliminary-rounds game at Lord's on June 29 – won't be bolstered by in-form top-order batter, Will Young.

Full highlights: NZ XI too good for Aussies

The 26-year-old was the stand-out performer of the past week with scores of 60 (from 69 balls), 130 (132) and 111 (108).

But he has forfeited the role as reserve player for the Black Caps' World Cup in order to undergo surgery to his right shoulder, which he damaged in a recent fielding mishap.

In addition to Smith, Australia's batting yielded a number of half-centuries - from Finch, Usman Khawaja and Glenn Maxwell (twice) – while Warner and Shaun Marsh spent useful stints in the middle on a slow-ish pitch that routinely tested batters' timing.

But the sunny Brisbane conditions that prevailed throughout the week also meant there was little movement on offer to seamers, and any turn extracted by spinners was slow.

Consequently, it was Pat Cummins' clever changes of pace that saw him emerge emphatically as the most potent of the 11 bowlers used by Australia across the three games, with seven wickets from the two matches he played.

Having entrusted the on-field leadership duties to Carey on Friday, with instruction to the senior players around the wicketkeeper to "help out as much as you can", Finch said that after such a highly scrutinised and much-discussed preparation, the prospect of getting on the plane on Friday was tantalising.

"I'm very excited," he said of the forthcoming challenge.

"I think when you talk so much about it, when it finally happens it's a relief to be actually looking forward as opposed to everything being questions and the unknown of what will happen.

"The fact that everyone is together, everyone's getting on great, the boys are pumped to get to Gallipoli and do that for a couple of days and then get to the UK and really ramp up the World Cup preparations.

"It literally is the time of your life - a World Cup." 

2019 World Cup

Australia's squad: Aaron Finch (c), Jason Behrendorff, Alex Carey (wk), Nathan Coulter-Nile, Pat Cummins, Usman Khawaja, Nathan Lyon, Shaun Marsh, Glenn Maxwell, Kane Richardson, Steve Smith, Mitchell Starc, Marcus Stoinis, David Warner, Adam Zampa

May 22: (warm-up) Australia v West Indies, Southampton

May 25: (warm-up) England v Australia, Southampton

May 27: (warm-up) Australia v Sri Lanka, Southampton

June 1: Afghanistan v Australia, Bristol (D/N)

June 6: Australia v West Indies, Trent Bridge

June 9: India v Australia, The Oval

June 12: Australia v Pakistan, Taunton

June 15: Sri Lanka v Australia, The Oval

June 20: Australia v Bangladesh, Trent Bridge

June 25: England v Australia, Lord's

June 29: New Zealand v Australia, Lord's (D/N)

July 6: Australia v South Africa, Old Trafford (D/N)

July 9: Semi-Final 1, Old Trafford

July 11: Semi-Final 2, Edgbaston

July 14: Final, Lord's

For a full list of all World Cup fixtures, click HERE