Sport

One-dayers are neither here nor there - put them to rest

If it stops raining by then, Sydney will host its next international cricket on January 23, a 50-over match between Australia and India. That date is chicken-burgered between finals of the Big Bash League, and you won't win a date with Ricky Ponting by guessing which will be more avidly watched. Enough has been said about the effect of the BBL bacillus on Test cricket, but the international scene is, like a first-time tourist to the subcontinent, suffering at both ends.

Ten months on from a World Cup that was successful in every way, 50-over cricket is again battling for a separate identity. The confused neither-here-nor-there status of one-day internationals is evidenced by Australia's selection for the five-match series with India starting in Perth next Tuesday. Indeed, it must be asked whether the ODI series is necessary at all.

Skittled: Australian paceman James Pattinson rattles the stumps of West Indian batsman Carlos Brathwaite.
Skittled: Australian paceman James Pattinson rattles the stumps of West Indian batsman Carlos Brathwaite. Photo: Getty Images

Heaven forbid the best players should be representing a BBL franchise rather than their country, but few will be fooled by the team that turns out for Australia. None of the three heaviest Australian run-scorers in the BBL will be playing for their country: Chris Lynn, perhaps because he is too good, Mike Hussey because he is too good and too old, and Michael Klinger because, pace selector Trevor Hohns's non sequitur, "he has done all he can do". Usman Khawaja's last six innings in all cricket are 174, 9 not out, 121, 107 not out, 144 and 56. Adam Voges's are 83 not out, 1 not out, 41, 119, 269 not out and 106 not out. That's a lot of all-you-can-do – a combined average of 205! - but when the one-day series gets under way, all that prime batting beef will be on show in the BBL.

The criteria for those who have been selected in the 13-man Australian ODI squad are a moveable feast, if not a dog's breakfast. The incumbents from the World Cup-winning team are Aaron Finch, David Warner, Steve Smith, Glenn Maxwell, James Faulkner and Josh Hazlewood. George Bailey and Matthew Wade had since come into the team for the retired Michael Clarke and Brad Haddin, while Mitchell Marsh eclipsed Shane Watson during the tour to England.

This gives the team a deceptively steady-as-she-goes appearance. But the form lines are mixed. Finch, after a moderate World Cup, missed half of the one-day series in England and averaged 18.66 in the Matador BBQs Cup, which, if you missed it, was the most recent one-day cricket these players engaged in and nominally a trial for the national team. Maxwell continues to be chosen for his constantly simmering but sporadically boiling-over potential. Faulkner, man of the match in the World Cup final, was suspended for the England one-dayers, serviceable in the Matador and more often finished than finisher in the BBL. Mitchell Marsh, man of the series in England, has barely had a bat since.

The players who have been dropped from the team since England are Shane Watson, Joe Burns, Ashton Agar, Marcus Stoinis, James Pattinson and John Hastings. Burns scored more Matador Cup runs than Bailey, Finch, Faulkner, Marsh and Maxwell. Watson is "in the frame", according to Hohns, but it must be narrowing in on those broad shoulders.

While the batsmen have been rewarded for incumbency, the bowlers have been chosen for experimentation. Scott Boland has won a place through impressive net performances. Kane Richardson and Joel Paris had good Matadors. The bowling situation is distorted by the many absences, but Pattinson, who came back from injury in the England series, excelled in the Matador, and has taken the most wickets at the cheapest average in the West Indies Test series, might be hoping he has been rotated. Meanwhile, being Australia's most economical bowler in England, taking 12 cheap and thrifty wickets in the Matador, and leading the Melbourne Stars' bowling in the BBL have not been enough to save Hastings.

The shadow over  this is the World T20 in India in March. Nathan Lyon has not been picked for the one-dayers because  selectors want to see him bowl for the Sydney Sixers. His consistent bowling in the Test series has slid him  right  past 50-over cricket  to the shortest form. Lyon will bowl off in the BBL against Agar, Cameron Boyce and possibly Brad Hogg. Trialling the spinners in the BBL has apparently taken precedence over picking the best spinner for  Australia.

So many Australian cricketers have performed so outstandingly well in Test and T20 cricket over the last month, truly capturing the imagination, that this one-day series is in danger of fizzling into a crack between the long form and the short, neither a trial for the World T20 nor a series of consequence in its own right. The best solution would be to cancel it: let the BBL have the stage to itself until late January, and then pit Australia's best against India's best in the international T20 series at the end of the month. That would give suspense and continuity to the lead-up to the World T20, a tournament Australia has never won. The BBL could then be integrated into the national story, instead of again being perceived as a bug eating cricket from the inside out.