Australia selectors have withdrawn David Warner from the Twenty20 series against India, paving the way for Steve Smith to be an opener for next year’s World Cup in the format.
Warner was officially ruled out on Tuesday and given the chance to return home and rest ahead of his final Test series against Pakistan.
The withdrawal of the opening game is another blow to one of the most overlooked Australian series in recent memory. If ever a reminder of the crowded cricket calendar was needed, this five-match series is it.
The opening match will be played in Visakhapatnam, just four days after India lost to Australia in the 50-over World Cup final.
The hosts named their squad for the series on Tuesday, with Suryakumar Yadav the only player available for the first three games in the decider.
Matches will also be played in Thiruvananthapuram, Barsapara, Nagpur and Hyderabad, although Australia has never played in the first two of these cities before.
By the end of the series, Australia will also have played 26 matches in India in 2023, with four Tests and three ODIs early in the year before another bilateral series and then the ODI World Cup in September.
Warner has been replaced in the squad by young all-rounder Aaron Hardie, giving him and Tanveer Sangha a chance to impress in front of potential IPL contenders.
Cricket is still catching up on Covid-mandated fixtures, with a number of other series resulting in those fixtures not going ahead earlier in the year.
The series is theoretically the start of preparations for next year’s T20 World Cup in the Caribbean and the USA. But India’s squad also includes only three players who featured in the 20-over event last year.
Australia will be without their top players and Mitch Marsh, but there is some chance of starting plans for the 2024 T20 World Cup.
Smith has spoken about his desire to open the batting and will likely now be able to do so with Travis Head following Warner’s departure.
The former captain was originally expected to start against South Africa in September but was forced out of the series due to a wrist injury.
Smith, who went unnoticed for much of Australia’s T20 World Cup last year, hit two centuries at the top of the Big Bash League for the Sydney Sixers last summer.
He now faces competition from the likes of Head, Marsh and Warner to lead the way at next year’s World Cup, having never opened in international T20 cricket before.
“Everyone wants to open in T20 cricket,” Smith said earlier this summer.
“It was cool to be able to show what I can do at the Big Bash. Hopefully I can repeat that internationally.”
Australia squad: Matthew Wade (c), Aaron Hardie, Jason Behrendorff, Sean Abbott, Tim David, Nathan Ellis, Travis Head, Josh Inglis, Glenn Maxwell, Tanveer Sangha, Matt Short, Steve Smith, Marcus Stoinis, Kane Richardson, Adam Zampa.
India squad: Suryakumar Yadav (c), Ruturaj Gaikwad, Ishan Kishan, Yashasvi Jaiswal, Tilak Varma, Rinku Singh, Jitesh Sharma, Washington Sundar, Axar Patel, Shivam Dube, Ravi Bishnoi, Arshdeep Singh, Prasidh Krishna, Avesh Khan, Mukesh Kumar, Shreyas Iyer (last two games only).