World Cup big guns fine tune in tri-series
World Cup big guns Australia, England and India get their final preparations for next month's tournament under way when the one-day international tri-series begins in Sydney on Friday.
The Australians face England at the Sydney Cricket Ground in the first match before renewing hostilities with World Cup holders India in Melbourne on Sunday, just a week after their 2-0 Test series win.
England made the big call of replacing Alastair Cook with Eoin Morgan as captain less than two months out from the World Cup in Australia and New Zealand and he gets his chance to fine-tune the squad during the tri-series.
Morgan's team have been among the runs in their two warm-up games in Canberra, scoring a total of 755 with Ian Bell blasting 187 off 145 balls in Wednesday's 60-run canter over the Prime Minister's XI.
Bell's knock was the highest innings by an England batsman in a competitive 50-over match, eclipsing Robin Smith's 167 against Australia at Edgbaston in 1993.
"It's nice to get some runs in the week we've had here," Bell said.
"It's a nice start to the tour and hopefully we can kick on in the main games.
"I've done a lot of netting in the last month, so it's nice to get a real big score in a competitive game."
England's recent ODI record has been poor, with series defeats in Sri Lanka and against India at home, and they will be looking to run into some form against two of the World Cup favourites.
The tri-series is also a chance for several Australians, battling fitness and form issues, to bed down a place in the starting World Cup team.
All-rounder Mitchell Marsh is scheduled to make his return as a batsman in Australia's third game on January 23 against England in Hobart following hamstring trouble.
"Obviously I have got a few things to get past first," Marsh said.
"At this stage I will be playing the first few games as a batter while I build my workloads up and go from there.
"If it all goes to plan, I can start playing as an all-rounder at the back half of this series."
Another all-rounder Glenn Maxwell boosted his World Cup claims by plundering 136 off only 89 balls for the Prime Minister's XI against England.
George Bailey may be in the unusual situation of leading Australia in the tri-series but missing out altogether in the World Cup if skipper Michael Clarke passes a fitness deadline from his hamstring injury on February 21.
"I think every person who is playing, regardless of any other positions, will just be looking to perform to make the case for retaining them within the 11 pretty compelling," Bailey said.
The Australians edge India at the top of the ODI rankings after a 4-1 home series victory over South Africa in November and they will be looking to win the tri-series to widen their lead at the top in their quest for a fifth World Cup crown.
Mahendra Singh Dhoni will lead India in the tri-series and World Cup after retiring from Tests during the recent Australia series.
India failed to make the final of the last tri-series they played in Australia, but they are strong in the batting department with Virat Kohli, Rohit Sharma and Ajinkya Rahane.
But their big test will be their bowling strength, with former Test batsman Rahul Dravid among many critics who have said the bowlers continue to be a big let-down.
January 16 - Australia v England, Sydney Cricket Ground
Jan 18 - Australia v India, Melbourne Cricket Ground
Jan 20 - England v India, Gabba, Brisbane
Jan 23 - Australia v England, Bellerive, Hobart
Jan 26 - Australia v India, Sydney Cricket Ground
Jan 30 - England v India, WACA, Perth
Feb 1 - Final, WACA, Perth
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