If the inaugural Test between Australia and Afghanistan, set down for late November in Hobart, is cancelled – as seems increasingly likely – due to the Taliban’s stance on women playing sport, then we can only hope that someone at Cricket Australia already has their thinking cap on and is ready to run with the best way to prepare our Test team for the upcoming Ashes series.
Given the preparations that have already gone on to have the first Test of the summer played in Hobart, not only as the first engagement against a new Test nation but as a warm-up for our team as they try to defend the Ashes, surely all Cricket Australia has to do is find a new opponent for their team. And the obvious solution is to have Australia take on Australia A.
No, not like those pretend ‘trial’ matches they have played against each other as warm-ups on the previous tour of England. This should replace the Test. It should be played over five days. It should be played under Test conditions. And it should be the nominal No. 1 team against the nominal next best team.
Surely the benefits would be enormous. Just as a starting point, after all the hullabaloo last season about Channel Seven and Fox trying to get a discount on their payment for cricket rights because they felt they were not offered what they paid for, surely playing this match over five days with our strongest players would allay any sort of repeat of that rubbish occurring.
Indeed, the chances are that the cricket will be more entertaining than a Test against Afghanistan, so the networks should be pleased with this match taking place.
Secondly, it means Hobart will still have its international match, even though it wouldn’t be an actual Test match. But surely all Tasmanians would love the chance to flock to Bellerive Oval to see 22 of Australia’s best cricketers live in action. It could be used as the perfect way to engage all Tasmanians, young and old, to get to the cricket, to watch and to play. If the players are all there for the weeks leading up to the game, engaging with the public, that would have to be a great win for Tasmania and cricket.
Thirdly, it gives our cricketers a great red-ball fixture to get the rust out, especially for those who will have spent the previous two months playing only T20 cricket against a white ball in the IPL and T20 World Cup. It would be an invaluable tune-up before the Ashes defence begins. It would also give players the chance to press their claims for selection in the Ashes squad. What better way to do so than scoring a century against Australia’s premier bowling attack or knocking over a five-fer against the batting line-up?
Imagine an Australian team of – say, for interest’s sake – Will Pucovski, David Warner, Marnus Labuschagne, Steve Smith, Travis Head, Cameron Green, Tim Paine, Pat Cummins, Mitch Starc, Nathan Lyon and Josh Hazlewood taking on a line-up of Nic Maddinson, Marcus Harris, Usman Khawaja, Kurtis Patterson, Mitch Marsh, Alex Carey, Michael Neser, James Pattinson, Mitch Swepson, Adam Zampa and Riley Meredith.
Not only does it offer Australia’s batsmen a tough assignment against Pattinson, Meredith, Neser and two spinners, but the bowlers would have to find a way through that top four before facing some hard-hitting all-rounders in the middle order.
It would be a great contest, and neither side would give an inch. The Test team would hate to give anyone a chance to take their spot, and the A team would be fighting for their own chance to make that side. Anyone old enough to remember the 1994-95 season, when both Australia and Australia A played in the one-day series at home and then faced off against each other in the final series will remember that neither side wanted to lose, and the contest was as tough as international cricket can be.
Cricket Australia has a chance to make something of the likelihood of losing a Test match that they would have seen as a great lead-in to the Ashes series. If they do the right thing here, they can perhaps make it an even greater success than it would have been.