England renew Australia rivalry in Covid-hit season finale
One of England's most extraordinary seasons will end with them facing arch-rivals Australia as both sides try to strike a balance between playing their strongest limited-overs teams and keeping an eye on the future.
The coronavirus pandemic threatened to wipe out England's entire home season yet they are now set to complete all 18 scheduled men's internationals, albeit that the fixtures have been played behind closed doors.
They face Australia in three Twenty20s in Southampton starting on Friday before taking on their oldest foes in three one-day internationals in Manchester later this month.
The Twenty20s should have served as preparation for October's T20 World Cup in Australia but the Covid-19 outbreak means the next edition of the global showpiece will take place in India in 2021.
Australia are currently the world's number one T20 side, with much of thir success built on a top order featuring captain Aaron Finch, David Warner and Steve Smith.
So even though the likes of Marcus Stoinis and Marnus Labuschagne have been in the runs during Australia's warm-up matches in England, they are unlikely to displace the three premier batsmen.
"We're pretty settled with how we structure our T20 side at the moment," Finch told a conference call on Thursday.
"He (Labuschagne) played nicely the other day, but I think he might have to wait a little bit longer in T20 cricket."
England beat Australia in the semi-finals on the way to winning last year's 50-over World Cup, and white-ball captain Eoin Morgan believes building squad depth will be key to replicating that triumph in T20 cricket.
"We don't have to pick our best XI every series that we play because we can't put all our eggs in one basket, because we need 16 or 17 players in the lead-up to a World Cup all vying for selection in the best 15," he said.
"We found in the lead-in to the 50-over World Cup that was the best position to be in."
England were without several multi-format players during their recent T20 series with Pakistan that ended in a 1-1 draw at Old Trafford on Tuesday.
The likes of 21-year-old opener Tom Banton starred against Pakistan but Jos Buttler will regain his place at the top of the order on Friday, with fast bowler Jofra Archer set to play his first white-ball international since sending down the decisive Super Over in last year's World Cup final.
"It's great to have him back," Morgan said of Archer on Thursday. "He's one of our match-winners and to have another one in your team is great –- he's a huge asset."
England and Australia are cricket's oldest Test nations and Morgan said that, whatever the format, matches between the arch-rivals were still special occasions.
"When you grow up watching Ashes cricket, or any game against Australia, it is always built up and seen as a pinnacle of anybody's career," he explained.
"Regardless of (context) there is always more on the line when you play against Australia, given the fact as well that they are normally one of the best sides in the world.
"If you do come out of it having played well or beaten them, there is a huge confidence boost to be had from that."
Meanwhile Australia coach Justin Langer was well aware of the challenge facing his side.
"Dangerous... that's what I made of England," he said. "I've watched the way Eoin Morgan plays, it's exciting to watch, he just comes out and smacks it from ball one."
"They've been the best one-day team in the world for a few years now...We know what to expect and we'll be ready."