Australia begin their series against Pakistan in UAE with a lot of uncertainty over the make-up of their playing 11, with fitness issues and possible unavailability of some due to their commitment to the ongoing Champions League T20 making coach Darren Lehmann’s job that much tougher.
Shane Watson has already been ruled out of the tour due to a calf injury. Captain Michael Clarke is in a race against time to get fit by the time the Test series start at the end of the month while left-arm quick Mitchell Johnson is recovering from a rib injury.
To top it all, Glenn Maxwell, Pat Cummins and Cameron Boyce are playing for the Kings XI Punjab, Kolkata Knight Riders and Hobart Hurricanes respectively in the CLT20 semi-finals, and possibly in the final as well, and might not be available for the one-off T20 match against Pakistan in Dubai on Sunday.
Coach Lehmann is aware of the situation but just wants to get on with the job and make do with whatever resources he has.
“We have had a few injuries. You can never control injuries, you just deal with them. It just gives someone else an opportunity. We will just wait and see what we get,” Lehmann said at the ICC Academy yesterday.
The situation with players’ availability is another factor after Cricket Australia decided to give CLT20 priority over an international fixture.
Lehmann, though, is fine with it.
“It is what it is. This is just part and parcel of the world game these days. We have enough players to play the game, and I don’t need to suit up. Whoever comes and plays, plays,” he said.
The one player the coach is looking forward to have in his ranks is all-rounder Mitchell Marsh, who performed admirably for Perth Scorchers in the Champions League, scoring 126 runs and taking two wickets from four games.
“Mitchell Marsh has been exciting. He has just arrived, we will see how he has been doing. “He has been fantastic for us in Zimbabwe (triangular series) and we need to give him as many games as possible,” Lehmann said.
In Zimbabwe, Marsh smashed 222 runs and picked up three wickets from five ODIs.
Even though it is a bilateral series against Pakistan, across formats and in subcontinent-like conditions, the Australians will play with one eye on the 2015 World Cup which will be played Down Under and in New Zealand. The focus, however, will remain on winning every game in the UAE.
“We are always looking ahead. But conditions are going to be different here compared to what we will get at the World Cup.
“We just need to play well here and will pick a playing 11 that will win games in UAE. We have one eye on the World Cup but our focus is to win games here,” he said.
Moin Khan, the former Pakistan wicket-keeper and now the chief selector and team manager, believes the upcoming series against Australia and New Zealand in the UAE is the best preparation his team could have got ahead of the 2015 World Cup.
Pakistan take on Australia in a solitary Twenty20 match (on October 5 at Dubai International Stadium) followed by three ODIs and two Test matches. New Zealand will be up next for five ODIs and three Test matches in November and December.
The World Cup starts February 14 in Australia and New Zealand.
And the 43-year-old Moin said: “This is the biggest opportunity for us before the World Cup, because you are playing against two of the toughest sides in the world. So, we are definitely looking forward to win these two series, because if we do, we are going to gain a lot of confidence ahead of the World Cup.
“For any country, there could be no better preparation than facing two such formidable opponents. This will prepare us mentally for the World Cup. This will also give us a chance to work out various combinations and be set by the time of the tournament.
“We are also playing a couple of ODIs in New Zealand. I think we are lucky to have such a good schedule before the World Cup.
“These three months are very important for Pakistan cricket. We are playing in conditions which are very similar to what we get back home, and that is one of the advantages that we going to get against Australia and New Zealand.
“This is the best bunch that the national selectors have selected for the T20s and the one dayers, now it is up to the players to deliver."
Khan was part of the Pakistan team under the charismatic leadership of Imran Khan which won the World Cup when it was last held in Australia and New Zealand in 1992. And he believes the current team has the ability to repeat that.
“It was definitely the greatest memory of my life. I was of a very young age, I was just 21. And there were a few other colleagues in the team who were equally young, and that is the best tournament we ever played,” said Moin, who played 69 Tests and 219 ODIs for Pakistan.
“But now, as a manager and as the chief selector, I’d definitely love our team to repeat that performance of 1992 for Pakistan.
“Even though we are playing in Australia and the conditions there are nowhere near to what we have back home or here in UAE, I believe that if the boys can play to their potential, they can give a very hard time to the other teams,” he added.
Kolkata Knight Riders’ top spinner Sunil Narine’s impressive run in the Champions League Twenty20 was marred on Monday when he was reported by the umpires for bowling with a suspect action. But the team has rallied behind the Trinidadian off-spinner, who has claimed 11 wickets to top the bowling charts in the tournament.
Coach Trevor Bayliss believes the umpires call will not affect the star bowler when he lines up against Hobart Hurricanes in the first semi-final at Hyderabad today.
He said: “There are some bad habits that creep in, whether you are a batsman or a bowler. And then someone points it out and you are able to do something about it.
“Sunil is a cricketer who has got a long career ahead of him. He wants to be playing for the next ten or twelve years.
“He is quite happy to work on anything that needs to be worked on and I don’t think it will take much from him to get it right,” he added.
Kolkata have been on an incredible run that began in 2014 Indian Premier League. They have won 13 matches on the trot, including all four in the CLT20.
Opener Robin Uthappa (154 runs) has been their batting mainstay with Narine leading a spin pack that has troubled the best in the business. Now, they will be against Hobart, who have a quality pace attack in Doug Bollinger, Ben Hilfenhaus and Ben Laughlin who have proved to be quite effective in this tournament.
Despite possessing the best spin attack in Narine, leggie Piyush Chawla, chinaman Kuldeep Yadav and offie Yusuf Pathan, Bayliss believes they will have to bring on their A game to tame the Hobart batsmen especially the likes of Aiden Blizzard and Shoaib Malik.
“It is an advantage that we have a number of spin bowlers in our team who are all different in their own way,” he said. “It gives us a lot of variety in the spin department and every one of those bowlers are quality spinners as well. It is one thing playing spin and it is another thing to play quality spin.
“Some of the Hobart batsmen are good players and can hit the ball a long way. If we don’t bowl well, I am sure they will be good enough to take advantage of that.”
Bayliss expects the match to be decided between Hobart pacers and the Kolkata spinners.
“It’s probably a match between a spin-oriented team and a pace bowling team. Hobart Hurricanes have some really good players and some explosive batsmen and we have to put our best foot forward to beat them,” he added.
It will also be the first day game for Kolkata, who have played all their group games in the night. Bayliss dismisses the notion the change might take them by surprise.
“It doesn’t really matter if it’s as a 4pm game or a night game because the players are used to playing under both conditions,” he said. “There might be less dew at four in the afternoon which has affected our bowlers to a certain degree over the last game or two.
“Hopefully it is nice and hot tomorrow, because these guys come from Hobart, which is one of the coldest places in Australia. Hopefully that takes some effect as well,” he added with a chuckle.
Hobart pacer Bollinger, however is confident his team is wellequipped to deal with the Kolkata’s spin threat.
“It’s a good advantage that KKR have here and they have got a great team,” he said.
“Our guys know what they are up against and that’s what we have been practicing since morning today.
“We just have to be confident and really have a go. The only way we can win is by going out there, holding our heads high and playing an aggressive game."