Australia have selected three potential debutants in a 21-man squad for their limited-overs tour of England, which has finally been given the green light.
It seems that every article written about the state of cricket at present starts off mentioning that “c” word.
Sports scheduling worldwide has been thrown into chaos for obvious reasons and cricket planning is tentative at best. Right now, Cricket Australia’s (CA) main focus is on what it knows, which is fair enough, though it’s made it clear that anything can change in the coming months.
It’s working with the England Cricket Board on a short white-ball tour there in September and has already announced an extended squad for that trip, which will be pruned, once plans are finalised.
The Indian Test tour is also looking likely and at this stage, the one-off Test with Afghanistan will also likely take place, though again, nothing concrete has been decided.
So a rough timetable of cricket for Australians in the next six months is:
1. September – England for a white ball series
2. October/November – IPL
3. Late November/December/January – Tests against India
That’s fine for the bulk of Australia elite Test players. Most will play some lead-up cricket in England and a select few will play in the IPL, but what about the players who don’t make these squads?
Australian cricket is not currently blessed with great depth in a number of positions; the entire batting line-up down to number seven and the spin bowling department are all concerns. Yes, there are lots of players who have potential, but they need real cricket games to knock off the winter cobwebs and show selectors what sort of form they’re in.
There are also two examples Cricket Australia should have noted from international cricket in the past 12 months.
The first was how they managed the lead-up to the Ashes campaign, with over 25 players in the mix to make the final squad. We can argue about whether they go the selections right, but the fact was they had a raft of match-ready players to choose from.
The other example they need to consider is the lead-up England had before the First Test against the West Indies earlier this month. They could only come together for a couple of rain-affected games and the lack of match practice showed in the First Test defeat. That they’ve come good and dominated the series points to players becoming match fit, both physically and mentally.
The messages Cricket Australia needs to take from this are pretty simple. It’s not enough to think the current Test XII will be right to go when the first Test against Afghanistan rolls around. These guys would benefit from at least one or two Shield games to get them used to the rigours of red-ball cricket.
The supporting cast also needs as much match time as possible, both to stake claims for early Test spots but to also be ready to go if/when needed throughout the Test summer.
The best way for Cricket Australia to meet these needs is to schedule four-day games, be they trial matches or Shield games, starting mid-October. They need to have at least two rounds before the Tests start, but also have at least two more rounds while the Tests are being played.
The latter games will allow batsmen in particular the chance to keep playing against good quality red-ball bowlers. The alternative would be a drop back to grade and the difference in the quality of attacks is simply too much if that player is then expected to step up and face Jasprit Bumrah and company, assuming one of the Test incumbents is injured.
CA has already announced a likely BBL season and it’s fair enough they try and milk the cash cow, but they must get the Shield season right too, even though it’s not a financial money-spinner like the T20 competition.
India will be extremely keep to regain their number one Test nation status and given they’re only two points behind Australia on the ICC rankings, it’s a very doable proposition for Virat Kohli’s team.
They will come at Australia hard and if our Test players and backup players aren’t match ready, we might be in for a long, disappointing Test summer. If however, Cricket Australia sorts out the preparation, memories of the last Indian visit should be put to rest.