There are now 85 days until the first test of the 2013-14 Ashes Series in Australia starts at the ‘Gabba. Off the back of a 3-0 drubbing in England Australia will be looking win back the urn on home soil for the first time since the epic 2006-07 series. Obviously then the preparation for this series will be vital.
For those wondering, here is the schedule of games the Australia team has committed to in the next 85 days:
If the ODI / T20 squad stays the same for the tour of India as it is now in England the following players from the 5th Ashes test at the Oval (or on the fringe of selection for that team) will be involved in that tour:
Assuming those players are all selected for the tour of the India, I have been left to ponder what first class cricket they might get to play before the first test match. Herein lies a problem: the first class schedule for the 2013/14 season has not been published yet. Of course we know when the BBL circus will occur but less than a month away from the historical start of a Sheffield Shield season and a schedule of games is not to be found.
The one game that has been locked in is an Australia A fixture against England starting in Hobart on 6 November. That being the case, the only guide for what might be happening in first class cricket in Australia is that which happened last year. Broadly speaking, there were four Sheffield Shield fixtures played before the first test last year by each team on the following rough dates (these dates are skewed by NSW having to start their season early to play in a T20 competition):
· 1st week in October
· 4th week in October
· 1st week in November
· 2nd week in November
Given those rough timings and assuming Cricket Australia sticks with that methodology when setting the fixtures, anyone taking part in the short form tour to India is only likely to get one first class game of cricket before the first test match at best. That is, of course, predicated on players being released by Cricket Australia to play said cricket which has not happened much in the past.
Does this not all smack of a team that is going to be behind the 8 ball preparation wise for the 1st test? This is a tour in our own backyard and yet we do not seem enamoured to set things up so that our team is well prepared and ready to play long form cricket? Surely the best way to prepare for long form cricket is to play long form cricket but if things go they were they are projected the obvious prospect is that at least four of our starters at the ‘Gabba will NOT have played a long form game before that test starts.
If preparation for the Ashes series and striving to rest the Urn back from England is Cricket Australia’s principal goal for this summer of cricket there is an easy two phased answer to all of this:
1. Send an Australian “A” team to India and keep anyone projected to be in the first test team at home in Australia; and
2. Schedule the Sheffield Shield games so that:
a. There are four of them before first test starts; and
b. There is a gap between the first test and the last Shield game of no more than seven days; and
c. Actually make the players projected to be in the test team play in all of those Shield games before the first test match.
That strategy works only though in a world where the governing body seeks to prepare test cricketers by playing long form cricket. Here is how I expect Australia’s preparation to actually occur:
1. Australia will send a full squad to India for the seven one day fixtures.
2. Cricket Australia will only schedule 2 Sheffield Shield games before the first test because they have to fit in the abridged 50 over competition before Christmas so that the BBL can run for 2 months.
3. Players will not be released to play for the States because Cricket Australia holds “preparation” camps for squad members not in India on the dates of the Sheffield Shield games BUT will be released to play in the Ryobi Cup.
In that scenario none of the combatants striding onto the Gabba on 21 November will have played long form cricket before that test starts. You scoff: but it has happened before!
One can only hope that sanity will prevail but one worries that this Australian team is going to go into this series bizarrely under prepared. If that is the case then Cricket Australia will have no one to blame but itself.