While Australia fight for funds, England eye Ashes

Ronan O'Connell Columnist

By , Ronan O'Connell is a Roar Expert

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    A week from now, Usman Khawaja, Glenn Maxwell, Hilton Cartwright and Ashton Agar were scheduled to line up for Australia A with a chance to win spots in the Test XI for next month’s series in Bangladesh.

    Instead, that ‘A’ series in South Africa may be cancelled, while the Bangladesh tour is in doubt due to the ongoing pay dispute between Cricket Australia and the Australian Cricketers Association.

    The Australia A players have said they will abandon the tour of South Africa unless a new memorandum of understanding is signed by this Friday.

    Amid the analysis of this dispute, there has been plenty of focus on the potential for this summer’s Ashes to be majorly disrupted, perhaps even void of star players as they strike. But, even if the dispute is resolved well before the Ashes, Australia’s preparation for the blockbuster home series now looks like it will be badly hindered anyway should the ‘A’ tour be abandoned.

    It is difficult to see how a resolution in the protracted dispute will be reached in time to go ahead with the first unofficial Test in South Africa a week from now.

    The two first-class matches against South Africa A would have informed selections not just for the Ashes but also for the two-Test tour of Bangladesh.

    The ‘A’ series was intended to be a trial for starting spots against Bangladesh for Khawaja, Maxwell, Agar and Cartwright, all of whom were named in both the 13-man Test squad and the ‘A; squad. The series also is the only chance the Australian selectors would have to assess potential Ashes picks on hard pitches before the Sheffield Shield starts just weeks out from the first Test against England.

    It would be a crucial audition for the likes of pacemen Jackson Bird, Chadd Sayers and Jason Behrendorff, all-rounder Travis Head, and keeper Alex Carey, all of whom are a realistic chance of playing a part in the Ashes. Should the tour be abandoned, those players would have only two Shield matches to push their case before Australia announce their squad for the first Ashes Test.

    Jackson Bird celebrates

    Ross Setford/SNPA via AP

    In the shorter term, Australia look set to arrive in Bangladesh unsettled and poorly prepared, should that Test series go ahead at all – that tour already shaped as a potential stumbling block for the Australians ahead of the Ashes.

    In three of the past four calendar years, Australia’s Test team has been badly destabilised by a shocking performance on a tour of Asia. Bangladesh must surely be feeling more and more confident each day the pay dispute drags on.

    On home turf, the Tigers have more than enough ability to defeat even a stable and confident Australian outfit. Now it seems that, if they do tour Bangladesh, the Australians may well arrive with major selection questions unanswered due to the cancellation of the ‘A’ tour.

    England, too, will be getting a growing sense that the turmoil in Australian cricket is inching them closer to an Ashes upset. Were the Bangladesh series cancelled, suddenly Australia would be decidedly vulnerable this summer.

    If you like a punt, right about now would be a good time to put some coin on England retaining the Ashes.

    Ronan O
    Ronan O'Connell

    Ronan O'Connell has been a journalist for well over 13 years, including nine at daily newspapers in WA. He now traverses the world as a travel photojournalist, contributing words and photography to more than 30 magazines and newspapers including CNN, BBC, The Toronto Star, The Guardian, The South China Morning Post, The Irish Examiner and The Australian Financial Review. Check out his work and follow him on Twitter @ronanoco

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