Australia faced South Africa in the first ODI at Perth's new Optus stadium and it wasn't a good day out for the Aussies. They crashed to a six-wicket defeat and this makes it 4 consecutive losses for the World Cup holders in limited overs internationals.
Unless the home side turn it around in the next game, they will fall to a 3rd consecutive series defeat inside a month after series losses against Pakistan in the UAE. Let's look at some of the probable reasons for today's loss, some of which have carried on from the UAE.
Australia have gone into this series with a new captain in Aaron Finch and Alex Carey taking over the wicket-keeping responsibilities, with Tim Paine forgoing both roles to concentrate on the longest format of the game.
Lack of a genuine spinning option:
Despite having Adam Zampa in the squad, Australia chose to have two part-time spinners, D'Arcy Short and Glenn Maxwell, taking over spinning duties. South Africa, meanwhile, had Imran Tahir, who bowled 9 restrictive overs for 39 runs and 2 wickets. Maxwell and Short didn't get a bowl, though the low total may have been the reason for that. And in spinning conditions like in the UAE, Nathan Lyon will be needing a partner, maybe even two in Tests.
In the limited overs, Fawad Ahmed was also touted as an option. But with age not on his side, he may not be considered. Most top teams have a settled set of spinners, most of whom are leg-spinners. England have Moeen Ali and Adil Rashid, New Zealand have Ish Sodhi, India have Kuldeep Yadav and Yuzvendra Chahal, as well as Jadeja and Ashwin in Tests.
It is also a sign of how much Australia are going to be expecting from the trio of Starc, Hazlewood and Cummins. The last time these three weren't playing in the same XI, Australia were clean-swept by England and almost conceded 500 in 50 overs in one of those games. There is no dearth of fast bowlers in Australia.
Billy Stanlake, Andrew Tye, Michael Neser, Kane Richardson, Joel Paris, Scott Boland, Chadd Sayers, Daniel Worrall, Chris Tremain, Nathan Coulter-Nile, Jhye Richardson, Gurinder Sandhu, Brendan Doggett have all been in and around the squad. But the ability to keep probing and intimidate with the pace that the aforementioned trio possesses in droves is missing. To put it bluntly, Australia look a lot more threatening both on and off the field with these three in action.
Who should be Australia's top 3 batsmen?
Travis Head and Aaron Finch opened the batting against South Africa, with D'Arcy Short in at 3. Chris Lynn came in at 4. While Head has seen most of his ODI success at the top of the order, Australia risk two issues if they continue with this tactic, especially without Steve Smith at 3 or 4.
One is that they play Short, who has been opening for the Hobart Hurricanes in the Big Bash and is a more natural opener than Head, out of position at 3. Though he did play that astonishing 257 run-knock at 3 for the Western Australian Warriors, his entry into the Australian team has been on the basis of his performances for the Hurricanes in the BBL.
The second risk is that of Chris Lynn not facing enough pace bowling at number 4. This would logically mean bringing Lynn in at 3 and Head down at 4. Putting Lynn at 3 helps him play a lot more fast bowling somewhat earlier in the innings. He can be devastating against the newer, harder ball as he showed in the recently concluded JLT One Day Cup for Queensland.
With the World Cup next year, the other thing to note is that there will be a good chance of both David Warner and Steve Smith coming back into the team, possibly taking two of the top three batting positions, thus making it important for somebody like Lynn to come in with his immense hitting abilities.
The Curious Case of Ashton Agar:
Ashton Agar, for the best part of 14 months, has been very close to being anointed as Australia's go-to spinning all-rounder. In that period, he has seen Short come in with his chinaman, Glenn Maxwell come in and out of the side, and has even had to play second fiddle to Test specialist Nathan Lyon in the odd T20.
Even Ben McDermott got a couple of games batting at 7. And with the Sheffield Shield getting underway, being away on tour keeps him from proving his credentials at the domestic level. It is something similar to what Karun Nair faced in England, and that ended with him being dumped out of the team for the West Indies series. Just like Karun's triple hundred at Chennai, Agar's 98 on Test debut at Trent Bridge seems like a lifetime ago.
The return of Dale Steyn:
Dale Steyn made it publicly clear that he had his sights on the 2019 WC some time ago. However, his return has added a less than expected zing to the already fearsome duo of Kagiso Rabada and Lungi Ngidi. Experience is something the Australian team doesn't completely possess, apart from Finch, Maxwell and the quicks.
Steyn now has the chance to play a role similar to what Vernon Philander does in Tests, that of reducing the load on Rabada, while being devastating in his own right. For Australia, this role had earlier been earmarked for James Pattinson. But with the Victorian coming to competitive cricket after more than a year on the sidelines, that slot is still empty.
These are some of the issues Australia face as they look to save the series. More importantly, these are issues they need to fix before the World Cup rolls around next year. As defending champions, they'd be expected to put up a stern defence of their title.