David Warner's return to the top of the order for Australia's ODI side has thrown up more questions for selectors after a thoroughly unconvincing display against South Africa in Bloemfontein. Concussion sub Marnus Labuschagne - not even picked in Australia's ODI World Cup squad - saved the visitors after teaming up with Ashton Agar (48 runs) with an unbeaten 80 to guide the Aussies to a three-wicket win.
The match was the first of five ODIs against the Proteas before Australia travels to the subcontinent for three games against ODI World Cup hosts India. They will also feature in warm-up matches against Netherlands and Pakistan, before their World Cup campaign kicks off with a first-up clash against the hosts on October 8.
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Warner was shifted back to his regular spot at the top of the order for the first ODI against South Africa but the veteran only lasted two balls - chopping on to his stumps for a duck after a lazy shot against Proteas quick Marco Jansen. Debate has been raging about whether Warner should bat down the order, with Mitch Marsh and Travis Head forming a solid partnership in the veteran's absence.
The pair opened the batting against India in March after Warner fractured his elbow in the Test series. Marsh scored 81 in the first ODI before combining with Head for an unbeaten stand of 121 as Australia won the second game by 10 wickets. Marsh scored 66 not out from 36 balls, while Head made 51 from 30.
When Warner returned for the third games of the series he batted at No.4 and scored 23. Marsh ultimately finished the 2-1 series victory as Australia's leading run-scorer, averaging 97 in that series at a strike-rate of 131.08 to be named player of the series. Selectors will no doubt be tempted to consider dropping down the order during the ODI series against South Africa, particularly if he continues struggling to make runs.
@CricketAus should put the Curtains for @davidwarner31.. It is high time ! They should look for an alternative to open the innings in order to keep the Batting Line Up Balanced..
More chances given for Warner and he clicks it 1/5 innings..
— Akshay (@AkshaySharon) September 7, 2023
Marsh's form shouldnt be wasted
if he comes after powerplay then they arent using his potential
Warner Out Marsh to open
Smith at 3
Or warner at 4
— CR7 (@CR7xMaxi) September 7, 2023
— Akash (@akash_idiot) September 7, 2023
If you're going according to current form then why on earth warner deserves to open? He has to bat at 4.
— Troll cricket unlimitedd (@TUnlimitedd) September 7, 2023
Warner's duck gave the Aussies a horror start to their chase after Proteas captain Temba Bavuma smashed an unbeaten 118 to help his side to a total of 222 all out (off 49 overs). Bavuma had defied leg cramps and a difficult pitch to post his fifth ODI century and single-handedly give his team hope, with Josh Hazlewood (3-41) and Stoinis (2-20) proving Australia's best with the ball.
The Aussies found themselves in a real spot of bother shortly after Warner's dismissal, with Marsh caught behind behind for 17 off the bowling of Kagiso Rabada. Aussie all-rounder Cameron Green then had to come from the field moments later after ducking into a fierce short ball that struck him on the back of the helmet.
Marnus Labuschagne stars after replacing concussed Cam Green
Aussies officials confirmed that Green would now enter an eight-day concussion protocol, meaning he'll be unlikely to return until the fifth and final ODI against the Proteas at the earliest. Josh Inglis also chopped on for just one run, while Head made a solid 33 (off 28 balls) before mis-timing a pull shot against Proteas quick Lungi Ngidi.
Wicketkeeper-batter Alex Carey came and went for 3 after being undone by Gerald Coetzee off his first ball, while Marcus Stoinis followed him back to the pavilion for 17 after also falling victim to Coetzee. The Aussies were 6-93 and in a massive hole at the time, before Labuschagne launched a stunning rescue mission.
"When I came back from the Ashes, I had three to four weeks off, then went back to the drawing board and really thought about what I wanted to improve in my one-day game," said Labuschagne, whose 53.36 Test average dwarfs the 31.37 he had averaged in ODIs before his Bloemfontein knock.
"That's gone really downhill and I really didn't like that. I've been really disappointed with the way I've played my one-day cricket the last 10 to 12 games.
"I haven't shown the intensity and courage that I would have liked. I wasn't too shocked when I was dropped, I said that to the selectors, 'I understand, I haven't made runs'.
"I did say I still want to be that person for you batting in the middle order. I addressed a few things that I wanted to improve on."
Australia stumbled to 7-113 in the 17th over when Labuschagne was joined by Ashton Agar, who he combined with superbly to get the Aussies home. The duo were largely untroubled as they added 112 in a magnificent, unbroken eighth-wicket stand - the highest ever for Australia in ODIs.
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