Does four straight losses represent concern as the World Cup ticks closer? Probably not for Australia.
Firstly, these ongoing games are glorified World Cup practice matches. It’s an opportunity for teams to tinker. There will be strange line-ups.
Like Australia fielding just one specialist quick in their series-opening loss to India. And playing belligerent batter Matt Short, who normally opens in the Big Bash League, at number eight amid a stacked batting order.
Secondly, Australia don’t have a lot of pressure right now. Sure they are one of the favorites. Probably only hosts India and defending champions England are rated a stronger contender.
But Australia are operating well in the backdrop amid football – Australia Rules and rugby league – fever back home. It’s a time of the year where cricket is barely followed by Australians even with a World Cup imminent. The scrutiny is just not there.
Thirdly, Australia have been here before. Remember the weeks before the 2007 World Cup? Probably not, but Australia were on a long losing streak before stomping through the competition in the elongated tournament – which might still be being played somewhere – to claim their third straight title.
This does feel different to 2007. There can be no comparison to that all-time great Australian team which could seemingly flick a switch whenever it wanted to. And their starting line-up was essentially a formality, peppered with legends.
There is an unknown over the makeup of this current Australian team in certain key areas. Injury concerns haven’t helped, especially with in-form batter Travis Head likely to miss the bulk of the World Cup with a fractured hand injury.
Head had started to form a dangerous opening partnership with veteran David Warner, who will retire from ODI cricket after this tournament.
He had seemed to fill the sizeable hole from former skipper Aaron Finch, who for so long combined brilliantly with Warner to so often set the tone for Australia. The powerful, diminutive openers helped spearhead Australia to a famous title on home soil in 2015.
Without Head, Australia need to find a replacement and make sure they strike the right balance. Their current squad – which can still be changed by the end of the month – brims with hard-hitting all-rounders, in what feels a bit more like a T20 team.
The maligned ODI format, becoming that neglected third wheel, has naturally adapted over the years with the turbo charged T20 batting transferring into the 50-over arena.
It feels like 50 runs are added to totals these days. Where once 270 was a pretty strong score, now it feels under par as underlined by India rather waltzing to a similar target against Australia on Friday.
The need for a slew of big-hitters is obvious, but it can be a little foolhardy for teams to just rely on a cavalier approach over 50 overs. An anchor or two is needed to balance the batting order.
Australia does have Steve Smith, who remains a rock but cracks in his armour are finally showing. At 34, he isn’t quite as reliable as before and Australia might just need more surety.
Why not Smith 2.0? Test star Marnus Labuschagne is in-form marked by a century in South Africa – just his second ton from 36 ODIs. He hasn’t quite recaptured that form in the subsequent games, but looked solid and been a steadying presence in a mishmash of a batting order.
Pigeonholed as a longer form player, with his mechanical batting proving almost impossible to dislodge at times, Labuschagne has never cemented a spot in Australia’s ODI team. He’s not even in their current World Cup squad.
Maybe he can’t consistently crash the boundaries like other brutish batters, but Labuschagne might just be able to provide a cool head in the crisis.
There will be many tough junctures during the World Cup in India, which is tough conditions for Australia. They’ve won six World Cups – ODI and T20 – but only their first in 1987 was in South Asia. They are 0-4 since.
Labuschagne does have support. “Selecting Marnus would be a bold move,” two-time Australia World Cup winner Brad Hogg told me. “You have to have aggressive players but need solid players on wickets that will spin. Australia needs batters who can play spin and that’s Marnus’ strength.”
There is still time for Labuschagne, who will have a couple of more chances in India to impress. Given his so-called limitations as a white ball batter, he’s on the outer and will need a big score to really tempt the selectors, who have preferred sticking with their slew of muscular all-rounders.
If all goes to plan, if he can demonstrate the value of a throwback batter amid the cauldron, Marnus Labuschagne might just prove an inspired selection.