A lot about the meeting between Australia and West Indies at Trent Bridge will be determined by a single question: which West Indies side will turn up?
If it is the one that razed Pakistan in their tournament opener, also at Trent Bridge, or the one that clouted New Zealand into submission in the warm-up match, then Australia may well be in for a very difficult time of it, having stuttered their way through an opening victory over Afghanistan in Bristol. However, Aaron Finch's men have already beaten West Indies once on this tour, and comfortably at that, in their own warm-up match on a postage stamp of a ground in Hampshire. And prior to that, the Caribbean side were near enough bullied into losing a triangular series final to an increasingly confident and capable Bangladesh at picturesque Malahide in Ireland.
Australia's coach Justin Langer certainly gave some indication as to the capriciousness of West Indies cricket - in contrast to the awe-inspiring consistency - allied to flair, that he saw as a child in Perth when watching the teams of Clive Lloyd and Viv Richards. "One thing we know about West Indies, particularly with Andre Russell and Chris Gayle, it's going to be exciting cricket," Langer said. "When I was growing up it was calypso cricket and I think we're seeing plenty of signs of calypso cricket, the way they're running in, bowling fast, they're not necessarily going to be bowling the same spot every ball like Curtly Ambrose, but it's going to be exciting to watch and they all try to hit sixes most balls. Darren Bravo's a little more orthodox but [it's] always exciting playing West Indies. When I was growing up, they were my heroes and they're not my heroes today because I hope we beat them on Thursday."
While Jason Holder's team have sought to be aggressive in everything they do, Langer and Finch have resolved to play a tighter game. They will be hoping to use the pressure of their bowling and fielding, in addition to the resourcefulness of a batting line-up being kept as deep as possible by the preference of Nathan Coulter-Nile over others, to corner West Indies into errors. Chief among their methods will be liberal use of the short ball, something the Caribbean side also used to good effect against Pakistan. The likelihood of a dry surface at Trent Bridge, as seen in the game between England and Pakistan, will also encourage balls banged in with a cross-seam for another reason - extracting old-ball movement.
Form guide (last five completed matches)
West Indies WLLWL
In the spotlight
It's a little over six years since Mitchell Starc laid waste to West Indies on a memorable afternoon at the WACA Ground, finding extremes of swing and pace that remain in the mind's eye of all who witnessed it. He produced a similarly destructive afternoon in 2015 at Eden Park, taking Australia within a wicket of a World Cup pool-game victory their batting scarcely deserved. This time around, he comes to Trent Bridge having looked to be revving into strong form against Afghanistan. While short balls will be a focus of the Australian attack, Starc's most dangerous deliveries are undoubtedly full, fast and swinging down the line of the stumps. Mixed-up footwork created by liberal use of the short ball can often allow for the full ball to be even more dangerous, as Gayle, Bravo and Holder will remember from that day in Perth.
If it was his batting that turned so many heads in the IPL, Andre Russell proved against Pakistan he is also more than capable of being a match-winner with the ball. Against Australia, Russell has provided plenty of evidence of his skills in the BBL, but he last played them in ODIs in 2013, meaning that first-hand experience among his opponents will be relatively slight. In the warm-up game in Hampshire, Russell faced only four deliveries, bowled by Adam Zampa, and delivered three overs for 17. If West Indies are to win, they will need much more out of Russell, and both sides know it.
Australia have flagged an unchanged line-up, resisting the possibility of recalling Nathan Lyon as a second spinner in place of Nathan Coulter-Nile.
Australia (probable) 1 Aaron Finch (capt), 2 David Warner, 3 Usman Khawaja, 4 Steven Smith, 5 Glenn Maxwell, 6 Marcus Stoinis, 7 Alex Carey (wk), 8 Pat Cummins, 9 Nathan Coulter-Nile, 10 Mitchell Starc, 11 Adam Zampa
Kemar Roach is waiting in the wings should West Indies want to alter the balance of their pace-bowling attack after its undemanding outing against Pakistan. Gayle and Russell were both at training on the eve of the game. "Chris was at practice for the last couple days, so Chris for me is all well and ready to go. Andre will be obviously assessed today, and we're very, very hopeful that he'll be fit tomorrow." Holder said, adding that the team will go by what the two men have to say about their fitness.
West Indies (possible): 1 Chris Gayle, 2 Shai Hope (wk), 3 Darren Bravo, 4 Nicholas Pooran, 5 Shimron Hetmyer, 6 Andre Russell, 7 Jason Holder (capt), 8 Carlos Brathwaite, 9 Ashley Nurse, 10 Sheldon Cottrell, 11 Oshane Thomas
Pitch and conditions
Trent Bridge, known for high-scoring, did not disappoint in Pakistan's unexpected victory over England. It will be the 481 pitch, by the way, but the pitch and square can be expected to be dry, with the hunt for reverse swing - by legal means, of course - likely to be some sort of a factor.
Spin bowling was a strong suit for Australia in their warm-up against West Indies, as Zampa, Glenn Maxwell and Steven Smith bowled a combined 14 overs for returns of 3 for 67. The ground dimensions that day were small, but there has been no inclination from Langer at least to add to the repertoire by calling in Lyon. "That is because of their left-handers. That said we probably won't bowl two spinners here against West Indies. There's always thoughts about Nathan Lyon, every game there's thoughts about playing Nathan Lyon, but Adam Zampa's doing a really good job for us. There is thinking about him because of their left-handers but Adam Zampa has a very good wrong'un, good top spinner, Glenn Maxwell's bowling well, so hopefully we'll get some balance there. Some of the other grounds we might look to play two spinners or the match-ups for the offspinner will be more appropriate but probably not here." Either way, Holder's men will need to find a way to deal more effectively with Zampa and Maxwell in particular, mixing strike-rotation with judicious attack.
West Indies have made a clear decision to give the new ball to bowlers who will gain swing and seam, reserving the "bang it in" merchants until after some of the Kookaburra's shine has worn off. They will be the latest group of pacemen to try to exploit Finch's well-documented flaw when facing deliveries moving back into him from outside the off stump, as classically illustrated by Sri Lanka's Nuwan Pradeep during a warm-up game that otherwise went swimmingly for the Australians at Southampton. Finch, having made an aggressive 66 against Afghanistan, appears to have found the freedom to launch in the fashion of his best days, while his partner Warner tries to find his best as an international opener after a year's suspension. The combination of an open, aggressive Finch and probing new ball work from the West Indies has great risk/reward potential for both sides.
Stats and Trivia
Australia have won only three of eight ODI appearances at Trent Bridge, and their most recent match here was a 242-run hiding by England last year. By contrast, West Indies have only lost once in eight games at the venue, and that was as far back as 1984.
Of all Australia and West Indies bowlers to have competed against one another, only Len Pascoe's 21 wickets at 13.52 from eight matches have come at a cheaper rate than Mitchell Starc's 16 at 13.87 in six.
"We expect some fireworks from the West Indies. There's going to be times where the boys are going to have to take a deep breath and keep smiling and bowling their best ball. But that comes with experience and that's what great teams and great players do."
Australia coach Justin Langer
"You've got two short balls per over; you might as well use them"
West Indies captain Jason Holder