Australian players' Big Bash League headache
Australian cricket's playing and marketing imperatives are again colliding, this time over the matter of Test players taking part in the early rounds of the expanded Big Bash League.
As part of the push to sell the new league and its eight manufactured teams to the public, Cricket Australia wants all of its centrally-contracted players to take part in the first round of the competition, tentatively scheduled for December 16 to 20.
This would allow maximum exposure for the new competition, and also mean the game's most reliable current assets, namely the likes of Michael Clarke, Shane Watson and Ricky Ponting, could be used liberally in advertising and publicity for the BBL.
However an agreement is yet to be reached between CA management, marketing and coaching staff over the issue of how to use the time between the end of the New Zealand Test series on December 13 in Hobart and the start of the India series on December 26 with the Boxing Day Test at the MCG.
"It's still being resolved. We're obviously keen for them to be available to play if the schedule and their physical shape allows it," a CA spokesman told ESPNcricinfo. "They're the biggest names and the most popular cricketers in the country so we'd obviously like them to be a part of as much as possible."
Australia's Test and limited-overs players have always missed parts or all of the domestic Twenty20 competition because it has clashed with the concluding weeks of the Test summer and the bulk of the ODI programme.
But the change to city-based teams and the paucity of genuine international talent available for the first edition of the tournament due to scheduling conflicts has intensified the demand for Australian internationals among franchises.
Given that Australia will have just completed their third Test series in as many months, including the tours of Sri Lanka and South Africa that precedes the New Zealand series, recovery time for captain Clarke, his deputy Watson and the fast bowler Mitchell Johnson, among others, will be at a premium.
Another issue will be maximising the team's preparation for the task of facing up to India, currently the world's No.1 ranked Test team, in what has arguably become Australia's biggest international rivalry outside of the Ashes. Where once the Australians could afford to take the odd preparatory shortcut due to an undisputed ranking at the top, now they have no choice but to plan diligently or face the consequences.
"The coaches are just making sure they've got enough time after the New Zealand series and before the India series starting on Boxing Day," the spokesman said. "We need to make sure their workload is managed. Even if it's agreed that players are available for certain matches, an individual assessment for each player will have to be made at the time regarding injuries, workload and individual programmes.
"These guys are going to be sought after by the BBL teams regardless of how many matches they can play, because they will help to sell the teams to the public."
Last summer the financial and cricketing interests of CA were muddled on more than one occasion. Michael Hussey and Doug Bollinger were handicapped when they were forced to stay behind at the T20 Champions League in South Africa with their IPL team Chennai Super Kings rather than preparing for the Test series in India.
Upon the team's return home, a pre-determined marketing plan to announce the Ashes squad at a public event in Sydney's Circular Quay - 10 days before the first Test - saw the selectors name an indecisive 17-man squad, causing what Simon Katich revealed to be a rumble of instability through the team before the first Test.
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo