Australia should play both Adam Zampa and Ashton Agar in the first ODI against South Africa today to exploit the Proteas’ weakness against spin.
While SA don’t struggle against slow bowlers quite to the same extent as Australia, their batsmen clearly prefer pace on the ball, as would be expected given their upbringing on fast, bouncy decks.
Since last year’s Champions Trophy South Africa have played four ODI series, with opposition spinners enjoying generous success, taking 62 wickets at an average of 25 and conceding just 5.5 runs per over.
Australia has long been obsessed with fielding pace-heavy attacks in ODI cricket and it brought them success for a long time. But the shift in recent years towards more aggressive batting in ODI cricket has made spinners central to the 50-over format, just as they dominate in T20 cricket.
Spinners are of particular importance between overs 10 and 40 when they can put the brakes on an ODI innings. This was evident in Australia’s last ODI series against England earlier this year when Agar and Nathan Lyon together went at a miserly 5.1 runs per over against the world’s highest-scoring batting lineup.
Adam Zampa celebrates with Steve Smith. (AAP Image/Paul Miller)
Meanwhile, Australia’s frontline quicks gave up an incredible 7.1 runs per over across that five-match series. The two strongest ODI teams in the world, England and India, regularly bowl at least 20 overs of spin per match and Australia should trial a similar strategy.
Should it fail they could always fall back to their pace-heavy approach before next year’s World Cup. Zampa and Agar both offer different things to the Australian team. The former has already shown glimpses of what he can achieve at international level when he finds form and confidence.
Zampa was the leading ODI wicket taker in the world in 2016 before appearing to lose confidence as he was messed around by the selectors.
On the evidence of the past six weeks Zampa is back to something close to his best. He was outstanding in the JLT Cup, with 12 wickets from six matches at an average of 25, and was Australia’s most economical bowler on the four-match T20I tour of the UAE, conceding only 6.25 runs per over.
Agar has more to prove at the highest level than Zampa. There is no doubt he needs to start making more breakthroughs but he showed against England that he is a promising defensive spinner, a role which has become crucial in limited overs cricket.
Agar also adds great balance to the Australia side thanks to the batting insurance he provides down at eight. Australia have batted far too conservatively since the last World Cup, failing to keep up with the trend of increasingly aggressive ODI strokeplay.
England’s top seven, for example, feel the freedom and confidence to take the game on because of the batting depth provided by the likes of Chris Woakes, Liam Plunkett and Adil Rashid.
The presence of Agar at eight should hopefully embolden Australia’s batsmen to take greater risks and address the team’s unacceptably low scoring rate. Of course, Agar first and foremost must pull his weight with the ball.
Ashton Agar of Australia (Photo by Gareth Copley/Getty Images)
Nathan Lyon was unlucky to miss out on this ODI squad, with Agar and Zampa under pressure now to justify his omission.
Spin should also be a key weapon for South Africa in this series, with wrist spinners Imran Tahir and Tabraiz Shamsi both pure wicket takers.
Tahir is arguably the world’s best ODI spinner, owning a sensational record of 149 wickets at 23, while left armer Shamsi took 3-36 in his last match against Australia.
Like the Aussies, SA have a fantastic pace unit but they’ll be well advised to invest heavily in the slow men in this series given the frailties of the home side’s batting against spin.
Australia’s best XI
1. Aaron Finch
2. D’Arcy Short
3. Shaun Marsh
4. Travis Head
5. Glenn Maxwell
6. Marcus Stoinis
7. Alex Carey
8. Ashton Agar
9. Mitchell Starc
10. Adam Zampa
11. Josh Hazlewood
Australia squad: Aaron Finch (C), Alex Carey (VC), Josh Hazlewood (vc), Ashton Agar, Nathan Coulter-Nile, Pat Cummins, Travis Head, Chris Lynn, Shaun Marsh, Glenn Maxwell, D’Arcy Short, Marcus Stoinis, Mitchell Starc, Adam Zampa
South Africa squad: Faf du Plessis (c), Farhaan Behardien, Imran Tahir, Heinrich Klaasen, Aiden Markram, David Miller, Quinton de Kock, Reeza Hendricks, Chris Morris, Lungi Ngidi, Andile Phehlukwayo, Dwaine Pretorius, Kagiso Rabada, Tabraiz Shamsi, Dale Steyn.

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