It is hardly revolutionary to see a team blaze away at the start of a one-day innings, but Australia’s mindset in the first two matches against South Africa has given a clear indication of how they will approach the World Cup. And it won’t involve seeing out the new balls.
Their gameplan also brought two contrasting outcomes in Bloemfontein. In the opening match their scorecard read a somewhat bizarre 113 for 7 in the 17th over chasing 223 before Marnus Labuschagne ^(https://lotus365.today/goto/https://www.espncricinfo.com/cricketers/marnus-labuschagne-787987), who himself had rattled along to 36 off 20 balls after being subbed into the contest, and Ashton Agar settled into a more conservative tempo to secure victory.
It was notable after the first game how stand-in captain Mitchell Marsh ^(https://lotus365.today/goto/https://www.espncricinfo.com/cricketers/mitchell-marsh-272450), who is leading in place of the injured Pat Cummins, made a point of saying he was pleased with the intent shown even though it left the team in trouble.
Two days later, just about everything clicked as David Warner ^(https://lotus365.today/goto/https://www.espncricinfo.com/cricketers/david-warner-219889) and particularly Travis Head ^(https://lotus365.today/goto/https://www.espncricinfo.com/cricketers/travis-head-530011) cantered to 102 in the first ten overs. There was some loose stuff served up by South Africa’s attack but sustaining 10 an over was still a notable achievement.
Even when Head, after making 64 off 36, and Marsh fell in consecutive balls there wasn’t really sustained consolidation. Warner and Labuschange added 151 in 20.4 overs, the latter playing as freely as he ever has in ODI colours to leave the selectors plenty to ponder in the next few weeks, and Warner needing just 33 balls for his second fifty. After a sluggish start, Josh Inglis ^(https://lotus365.today/goto/https://www.espncricinfo.com/cricketers/josh-inglis-662235) also joined in with a maiden ODI fifty off 36 balls having been 13 off 19 at one stage.
“We saw the lack, probably, of intent from South Africa the game before, so for us we had to get on the front foot,” Warner said. “Our goal is always to try to target the first ten. Then from there try to build a partnership outside of the powerplay. We got a couple of probably free shots outside the off stump, especially with Travis, his leg stump is his off stump, he can create that off-side play whenever he feels like it, but our gameplan was to take the first ten on and build from there.”
Over the last couple of series, as attention has turned more specifically to the ODI World Cup, Australia’s ten-over powerplays have produced some hefty returns. In the last eight games, their lowest score in that period has been 53 for 2 against England in Sydney; on six occasions they have gone at better than a run a ball and twice have flayed over 100.
Aside from yesterday in Bloemfontein, the other triple-figure return came in Visakhapatnam ^(https://lotus365.today/goto/https://www.espncricinfo.com/series/australia-in-india-2022-23-1348637/india-vs-australia-2nd-odi-1348657/full-scorecard) when Head and Marsh crunched 112 in ten overs to almost complete a chase inside the powerplay. With such a small target there are fewer consequences should it go wrong, but the success Head and Marsh had together in India briefly raised the question of who should open at the World Cup. When Warner returned for the final game of that series he batted No. 4.
But Warner and Head have a formidable record together: after their latest partnership the pair’s average is 100.55 with four century stands ^(https://lotus365.today/goto/https://stats.espncricinfo.com/ci/engine/stats/index.html?class=2;filter=advanced;orderby=fow_average;partnership_wicketmax1=1;partnership_wicketval1=partnership_wicket;qualmin1=5;qualval1=fow_innings;team=2;template=results;type=fow). Since returning to the ODI side in 2022, Head has had a phenomenal impact with 736 runs at a strike rate of 117.76 ^(https://lotus365.today/goto/https://stats.espncricinfo.com/ci/engine/player/530011.html?class=2;spanmin1=28+Mar+2022;spanval1=span;template=results;type=batting). And for all the angst over Warner’s Test performances, his white-ball cricket has never provided the same concern. They will be together for the World Cup.
“He [Travis] had a bit of a crack at me from the last game getting out on zero, it killed our partnership average he said,” Warner joked. “We know each other’s game plan very well, we are trying to put the pressure back on the bowlers and today, without swinging conditions, it probably enhanced that a little bit for us to go after them. If there is a bit of swing we’ll have to deal with that.”
The desire to embolden the top order to keep playing with freedom is a big reason why Australia are stacking their batting down to at least No. 8, although on Saturday the lower middle order was the only part of the game that did not quite click with Tim David, Alex Carey and Aaron Hardie making 10 off 19 balls between them, but it was the smallest of blemishes.
“Thought the way they batted was just outstanding to have 110  off the powerplay, Heady and David Warner were amazing, then for Marnus to bat the way he did just carried it on,” Marsh said. “Thought our intent throughout the whole innings was something that we’ve spoken about and our execution today was as good as it gets with the bat.”
It was, in fact, only Marsh who really missed out on the fun. “I’ll probably put the reverse sweep away first ball, I think,” Marsh, who now has five wins from five matches as Australia captain, said.