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December 19, 2012
Twenty20's potential to be toxic for Australia's Test match plans has been underlined by the decision to "quarantine" the Boxing Day Test squad from the BBL before the team convenes in Melbourne. Of the 13 only Peter Siddle is not presently signed up to a BBL team, but none of the other 12 will take part in any of the matches scheduled between now and the start of preparation for the second Test.
Usman Khawaja will have a particularly focused lead-in to the Test, as he steels himself for the possible task of replacing Michael Clarke in Australia's batting line-up. Clarke's hamstring strain will be given every chance to heal in time for the MCG match, but in the meantime Khawaja has been seconded to Cricket Australia's Centre of Excellence in Brisbane for intensive training sessions with the acting batting coach Stuart Law.
Australia's team performance regime has been stretched by the task of finding an adequate balance between the demands of T20 and Tests, especially during the period of the home summer when the national team plays the five-day game without any first-class cricket to buttress the reserves.
Pat Howard, the team performance manager, has said that it will likely take at least another two years before teams the world over have found ways to deal effectively with the effects of jumping from format to format, and the coach Mickey Arthur said that there was no alternative to holding the squad out of the BBL this week, noting the injuries to the likes of Ben Hilfenhaus, Pat Cummins and Josh Hazlewood that have already arisen this summer from the T20 riddle.
"That's always going to be a conundrum for us, who do we play, who don't we play," Arthur said. "We feel that the Test match is massively important on Boxing Day, we want to quarantine the 13 players. We're sitting with enough injuries as it is. We want Usman to go back and work really hard on his red ball game. I want him to go and do some work on just tightening his game up again. He's been practising with a white ball, and we want to give him every opportunity to make it a success if he gets picked.
"Johnson didn't play for Brisbane Heat [on Tuesday night], and that was really an issue between Mitchell and his franchise. Not a bad issue, there was just dialogue between them, Mitchell's wife has just had a baby, so there was dialogue there. We just think it's best now that we quarantine those 13 players, because once we start letting one off then there's always the issue of why's he playing, why's he not playing. It's in the best interests of the 13 to get ready for Boxing Day."
Khawaja's looming return is a significant vindication for the left-hander, having changed states and worked assiduously at his batting since he was dropped from the Test team for the Boxing Day Test last year. The national selectors have sought improvement in the areas of fielding, running between the wickets and general team ethic, and Arthur said the panel was now convinced that Khawaja had gone a long way to meeting those marks.
"I don't think we would have picked him if he hadn't shown that continued improvement that we wanted from him. I think Ussie's done well," Arthur said. "It's no coincidence that you sit with Phil Hughes and Usman Khawaja at Nos. 1 and 2 in the amount of Shield runs. They thoroughly deserve their opportunity to come back.
"It was just a year ago right here that both of them lost their places. So what they've done in a year to get back has been immense, and that's a credit to both of them. So to welcome Ussie back into the fold is going to be quite exciting."
Should Clarke not be fit, an enormous amount of pressure will be placed on Australia's recast top four to improve on a largely promising display in Hobart, when only Shane Watson of the quartet failed to pass 50. David Warner reached that tally in both innings of a Test for the first time, while Phillip Hughes looked the part at No. 3.
"I thought our top six this game contributed immensely to the win," Arthur said. "First-innings runs are always massive. We got first-innings runs, four out of six fifties from our Nos. 1, 2 and 3 which for me was really big. That was one area we wanted to be very consistent in, and then as far as Watto goes, he's got a massive amount of quality, so pretty sure that he's going to do the job for us at No. 4. So really happy with how our top six stacked up."
Another man likely to benefit from the "quarantine" is the left-armer Mitchell Starc, who showed evidence of his progress as a bowler by scything through Sri Lanka's tail on the final afternoon at Bellerive Oval after an exhausted Peter Siddle had been withdrawn. Arthur said Starc's gradually improving consistency was a source of some satisfaction ahead of the tours of India and England.
"It's just experience, just exposing him to situations like he was in Hobart," Arthur said. "The more he's exposed to those conditions, the better he's going to become. There's a massive amount of talent, and I think he's just going to get better and better."
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets hereFeeds: Daniel Brettig
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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