Beer, Krejza duel for Sri Lanka berth
Michael Beer and Jason Krejza have both been included in the squad for Australia A's tour of Zimbabwe, and will use the opportunity to duel for a Test spin-bowling berth. Ben Hilfenhaus has been given a chance to show his international career is not fading away after the Ashes. The squad for the four-day matches against Zimbabwe was announced on Monday and has a strong Test team component, as the national selectors ponder their options ahead of tours to Sri Lanka and South Africa.
Usman Khawaja, Phillip Hughes, and the tour captain Tim Paine have all played recent Test cricket for Australia, while the likes of Callum Ferguson, Trent Copeland, Mitchell Starc and James Faulkner will all be in serious contention for the Sri Lanka touring party.
The most pointed battle will be between Beer, who played the spin role in the final Ashes Test at the SCG and bowled better than his figures suggested, and Krejza, the enigmatic slow bowler with the sharpest offbreak in the country but a mixed international record. Krejza went to the World Cup after injuries ruled out Xavier Doherty and Nathan Hauritz, and it appears that he remains ahead of that pair.
"It's really just a matter of trying to get as much exposure for our spin bowlers as possible so we can keep working out just where our stocks are," the national selector Greg Chappell told ESPNcricinfo. "It's pretty open. It's no secret that spin bowling is an area that we're keen to get at, finalise or make some ground on. We haven't really for one reason or another, either through injury or form had much consistency in that area.
"Spin bowling's not a straightforward issue. It is easily crowded by the success that Shane Warne had but most countries take time to find spin bowlers and good ones certainly don't just drop out of mid-air. I think we've got about seven spinners in our sights, the four going there, Hauritz, Doherty and Steve Smith. So there's about seven guys there and nobody's really nailed the spot down at this stage.
"We're trying to give as many of them opportunities as we can and find out which ones have what we're looking for. It's about trying to find the right people for the right conditions and that can vary depending on where you're playing, South Africa will be different from Sri Lanka, and Sri Lanka's different from India even - it was quite remarkable watching the Sri Lankans and Indians play in each other's country."
While Hauritz is still recovering from a dislocated shoulder and is at long odds to be limber enough for Sri Lanka, Doherty is fit but not selected. His place in the limited overs squad has been taken by South Australia's Nathan Lyon, a classical offspin bowler who enjoyed a surreal promotion from the Adelaide Oval ground staff to the Redbacks' XI last summer.
Hilfenhaus, meanwhile, will need to show evidence he can regain the knack for taking wickets, after his spells grew increasingly unthreatening against England at home, resulting in the paltry return of seven wickets at 59.28 in four matches.
Tasmanians Faulkner and Luke Butterworth were rewarded for their prolific wicket-taking for the Tigers during their Shield-winning 2010-11 campaign, and may be considered with an eye towards the humid air and seaming pitches that can sometimes be encountered in Sri Lanka.
The teenagers Nic Maddinson and Mitch Marsh have been included in both squads, better to aid their development as Test players of the future, while Cricket Australia eyes will be narrowed on the captaincy progress of Paine and his deputy Ferguson, who spent the Indian Premier League together in with the Pune franchise. Another IPL commodity, David Warner, has the chance to defy his stereotype with runs in both formats.
Chris Lynn, the promising Queensland batsman, is a notable inclusion to the limited-overs squad having missed out on selection in the provisional 25, but will need to pass a fitness test on a finger injury before travelling. Stephen O'Keefe has the chance to press his case as a spinning allrounder in the shorter formats.
Even though the tour program is still being finalised, the squad is booked to leave Australia on June 25 and return on July 25, about the same time as the senior squad ventures to Sri Lanka. The A squad will take part in a pre-tour camp in Brisbane in early June.
Australia A four-day squad Tim Paine (capt, wk), David Warner, Phillip Hughes, Usman Khawaja, Callum Ferguson, Nic Maddinson, Mitch Marsh, Luke Butterworth, James Faulkner, Jason Krejza, Trent Copeland, Ben Hilfenhaus, Mitch Starc, Michael Beer.
One-day squad Tim Paine (capt, wk), David Warner, Aaron Finch, Callum Ferguson, Chris Lynn, Nic Maddison, Mitch Marsh, Luke Butterworth, Stephen O'Keefe, James Faulkner, Ben Hilfenhaus, Trent Copeland, Nathan Lyon, Mitch Starc.
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo