Quicks Josh Hazlewood, James Pattinson and Michael Neser will get a chance to audition for a late World Cup call-up when Australia A begin their 50-over tour of England tomorrow.
It’s the event that gets even the most casual of cricket fans enthusiastic about the game.
While there are clear favorites heading into the 2019 World Cup, it’s a wide open field.
The host nation England are humming and have taken all before them in the one-day format in the past four years.
Their greatest challengers India have the superstar power at both ends of the line-up.
The intrigue surrounding the Australians – with the return of Steve Smith and David Warner and the sudden squeeze for spots – has them in a good spot to defend their crown.
The South African pace attack always poses a threat and the Proteas have the power hitting to back it up.
The Kiwis are always thereabouts, while the West Indians scream power and flare with the likes of Andre Russell and Chris Gayle salivating over the small grounds that they will be confronted with.
The Pakistanis have assembled one of their more skillful squads but still leave you with plenty of heart-in-mouth moments. Mercurial one day, calamitous the next. You never know which version will show up.
The Sri Lankans are on the brink of implosion, but they arrive in the UK with the experience and knowledge of how to run these tournaments deep having done it a number of times.
The Bangladeshis are a rising nation beginning to hold their own, while the ever-improving Afghanistan are tipped to be the giant killers of the competition.
It’s the world’s best ten nations competing for the right to be called world champions. But something is missing.
While it’s tipped to be a fantastic World Cup, the ICC’s decision to continually decrease the amount of participating teams will leave an empty feeling for many at this tournament.
Cricket is the second most popular sport in the world. While it’s geographically contained to the subcontinent, the United Kingdom, Australia, the Caribbean islands and a few pockets of Africa, that still leaves the greater part of North America and the whole of South America who mostly don’t understand the buzz surrounding the sport.
One would expect the ICC to take every measure possible to popularise the game – especially at their showpiece tournament.
However, the governing body went in the opposite direction by trimming the number of participating teams to ten.
While they are the source of a few mismatches, the associate nations have a profound impact on the Cricket World Cup. They show hardcore cricketing lovers that the game isn’t just lumped in three different corners of the world.
Some of the great World Cup memories of recent tournaments are from associate nations against the heavyweights of the world.
Who could imagine Kenya and their giant-killing run to the semi-finals at their home World Cup in 2003? The image of Bermudian Dwayne Leverock soaring through the air to take possibly one of the greatest catches of all time?
There’s Kevin O’Brien’s century in 2011 to sink England, which remains the quickest century at a World Cup. There was Bangladesh beating in England in 2015.
Every edition presents one or more associate nation making a surprise run to the playoffs or at least remaining in contention all the way through the group stage.
Since the last World Cup, we have welcomed two new Test-playing nations and we have seen cricketing cult heroes emerge through the various Twenty20 leagues across the globe.
They put their cricketing nations on the map. Associates continue to grow and produce players. They put in a mountain of work to get the chance to rub shoulders with the world’s best players once every four years when they are given a chance to compete against them.
At a time when everyone is talking about all the associate nations improving and competing against Test-playing nations more and more. The fact that Ireland is always batting above their weight and finally gaining full ICC membership and won’t be at the World Cup further proves that this decision from the ICC is a shocker.
Indian great Sachin Tendulkar went into bat for the associate nations, lobbying the ICC to increase the participation even more.
The 2007 tournament in the West Indies is the best example – 16 teams got to play in four pools of four teams, meaning there was less margin for error from the full ICC members.
India and Pakistan both got eliminated from the tournament in the group stages, both slipping up to associate nations and failing to rebound in time.
By limiting the number of teams to ten, the ICC has virtually eliminated the surprise factor.
While they will get more evenly matched contests with the ten best teams competing in a round robin format, it takes away one of the great narratives of the World Cup in seeing all different nations compete on the world stage.
The ICC’s decision stagnates the worldwide popularity of the game.
The stars are out. The wickets are ready. The runs are expected to flow and the balls are expected to spin.
While all these ingredients ensure a fantastic cup, there will be a certain missing flavour.