Australia beat challenging conditions and circumstances in series of incremental gains

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Mitchell Starc: Used wicket, we knew it would take turn (1:04)

Lessons learnt from the loss in the second ODI helped Australia clinch series, says Starc (1:04)

This wasn't an ordinary one-day series for Australia. A squad already without a host of key names then lost its captain; a Covid-19 scare sent the teams hurrying into isolation and left the visitors unsure if they would hastily be on a flight home; and the pitches forced players to think on their feet.

Alex Carey, who took charge when Aaron Finch was ruled out with his knee injury, will be able to look back with significant satisfaction over the last few days. As a captaincy audition for someone tipped as a potential long-term leader it certainly had its value.

He made the highest score of the series with 67 in the opening game to give Australia a total that proved more than enough and, particularly in the final match, he captained impressively behind the stumps where the surface demanded Australia go spin-heavy which is not always a plan that sits comfortably with them. They had misjudged conditions in the second game - perhaps understandably after the quicks blew West Indies away in the opener - but did not repeat their mistake.

Ashton Agar was introduced in the seventh over and Carey made good use of Ashton Turner's offspin - his return to bowling, and the evidence he can be a more-than-handy option when conditions suit, was one of the gains for Australia.

There was adaptability shown in the run chase, too. Carey lifted himself to No. 3 as Australia made good use of their left handers against a West Indies attack lacking a spinner who could turn the ball away from them (Kieron Pollard's offspin probably does not have much of an international future). It might have been worth Matthew Wade opening instead of the struggling Moises Henriques, but Wade did an excellent job finishing the game at No. 5.

Wade had not played an ODI in four years before this series (which isn't a patch on Dan Christian's seven-year gap) and did not expect to start until Finch was injured. Whether he remains in the shake-up when Australia resume the format early next year, against New Zealand in January if schedules play out as planned, is uncertain but he is a versatile cricketer. Christian's comeback in which he wasn't needed to bat or bowl - well, that has the feeling of a curious one-off, but he has another trophy to show for it.

Despite all the absences for Australia, the bowling attack remained well resourced especially around the trio of Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood and Adam Zampa who are all first-choice picks. This wasn't quite an upturned side on the scale of England against Pakistan a few weeks ago or India's 2nd XI in Sri Lanka.

Carey became the latest Australia captain to know what it feels like to have an in-form Starc with the white ball while Hazlewood's overall returns (14-2-29-5) read more like a fine Test performance than a one-day series. "It's pretty nice to throw the new ball to Hazlewood and Starc," Carey said after the final game.

Starc is now five wickets away from 200 in ODIs and has four matches to become the fastest to the landmark ahead of Saqlain Mushtaq's 104 games. Zampa's two wickets in the final match also made him the leading wicket-taker in ODIs since January 1, 2019, with 55.

The T20 focus of this tour - the team flies to Bangladesh on Wednesday for five more matches - was highlighted by the decision not to include Marnus Labuschagne, instead leaving him in county cricket. It meant there was always going to be an element of filling gaps as well as possible, especially in the batting which was then exacerbated by Finch's injury. With all ODIs in the Super League now carrying points there is an importance to them that wasn't there before, but a series loss would not have been terminal for Australia.

The fringe batters did not bash the door down with performances, but conditions were tricky and it was only three matches. Josh Philippe showed promise with 39 in the opening encounter but did not seem entirely comfortable on the pitches; Ben McDermott made 28 and 0 before crashing into the boundary boards; Turner hit a good 49 as part of the only century stand of the series and was then cleaned up by a beauty from Akeal Hosein in the second game.

Henriques, though, had a series to forget as he became Hosein's bunny: caught sweeping, edging to slip and pinned lbw across the three games. He had earned the right to revive his international career on the back of his domestic performances, but the chance is slipping away in the coloured clothes. Challenging for the No. 5 spot in the Test side might be the best focus now.

Mitchell Marsh could not add to his three half-centuries in the T20I series but continued to hit the ball nicely and his 21-ball 29 in the decider was momentum-seizing when the openers had fallen cheaply. Given how the matches played out, and heavy use of spin in the last, his bowling wasn't much needed.

Australia have now secured ODI series victories against England, India and West Indies in the pandemic-era Super League. They will not play the format again for six months, and a lot could still change in the two years up to the 2023 World Cup, but when the full cast is available again they feel well placed in a format that has brought them plenty of past glory.