Australia’s desire for improved output from their top-order could be made harder by the possible absence of Steve Smith for the third ODI against Sri Lanka as the tourists deal with yet another injury concern.
Smith was not expected to train on match eve in Colombo after hurting his left quad during Australia’s second ODI defeat in Kandy, their second straight match without a game-defining contribution from their top four.
The Aussies are understandably treating their star batter with caution given his importance for the two-Test series in Galle, which starts in less than a fortnight.
It may pave the way for one of Josh Inglis, Cameron Green (who had been scheduled to get the green light to resume bowling this weekend) or Mitch Marsh (fitness pending) to return for Sunday’s 50-over clash at the R.Premadasa Stadium.
Smith pulled up sore running a two in Australia’s run chase on Thursday, batting on with heavy strapping on his left leg before being dismissed two overs later. The team will make a call on his availability for third ODI tomorrow.
The visitors are scratching their heads at how they have managed to suffer an injury in every match they have played on their tour of Sri Lanka.
Mitchell Starc (finger), Marsh (calf), Kane Richardson (hamstring) went down in the first, second and third T20Is respectively, Ashton Agar and Marcus Stoinis both suffered side strains in the first ODI before Smith’s blow in the second ODI.
Sean Abbott also broke a finger in the nets before the series started, while Green (who has been available as a batter only for the first two ODIs but was overlooked) has been restricted from bowling in games as they manage his fitness ahead of the Tests.
“We’ve got everyone wrapped up in cotton wool for the next 24 hours,” wicketkeeper Alex Carey joked on Saturday.
If Smith were to miss all or some of the remaining ODIs, it could open the door for Marsh to take up the No.3 spot he has made his own in Australia’s world champion T20 team.
The allrounder, who has been nearing a return to action having completed batting and running sessions in recent days, has mainly been used at five and six in 50-over cricket but batted at three and four in his most recent ODIs in the Caribbean last year.
“I know he’s really close,” Carey said of Marsh’s potential return.
“‘Bison’ (Marsh) is one that can fit into any position which is great to have up our sleeve. It’s going to be about team balance.
“I’d expect him to probably play a similar role to the T20s. He’s been fantastic there, his intent is what we’re we trying to achieve, his spin play has been fantastic and he’s amazing against the quicks.”
Australia have left the onus on their lower-order in their two run chases of this ODI series; Glenn Maxwell got them home with an extraordinary 80no from just 51 balls in the first match but couldn’t repeat the trick in the second as Sri Lanka levelled the series at 1-1 with a 26-run DLS win.
Maxwell has been left to come in at No.7 given his explosive capabilities as a late-innings finisher, with No.6 Carey suggesting both run chases were “gettable”.
But he noted the top order were eager to post a match-winning hand, with Smith’s 53 off 60 in the series opener marking top four’s only half-century so far.
“Our top four have had starts so we’d like a big score out of them. But also our job through five, six and seven is to get us home,” said Carey. “‘Maxi’ did that in the first game.
“When Maxi is in the sheds and you know he’s coming in, there’s always a chance for anything.
“In the first game it was planned perfectly; he came in and played an unbelievable innings. The other night, he’ll be disappointed to have gotten out when he did – we had the game there, we were ahead of the target, ahead of the rate.
“So just little things to tidy up … but we’re definitely confident in that middle order. And the top order is craving some bigger runs as well.”
14: Australia won by two wickets (DLS)
June 16: Sri Lanka won by 26 runs (DLS)
June 19: Third ODI, Colombo, 7pm AEST
June 21: Fourth ODI, Colombo, 7pm AEST
June 24: Fifth ODI, Colombo, 7pm AEST