Introducing Australia AA
Cricket Australia has fielded two Australia A sides in the same week, including one player who was sent home from the first tour because of injury, only to play for the other squad back in Australia.
From the August 7-10, Australia fought out a draw against England Lions. On the August 12 Australia A lost to an Australian side before a Clarke's XI team defeated a Bailey's XI side on the 14th.
Australia A has just finished playing a rain-affected match against the England Lions that was scheduled from the August 14-17. The first and last games were in Manchester and Birmingham, the middle games were played in Darwin.
These are two separate A squads, playing in two different formats, on two different continents. CA's General Manager of team performance Pat Howard explains the two squads as "just different players playing in different formats". The Australia A squad in England is playing four-day cricket, while the Australia A squad in Darwin is playing limited overs cricket.
The Australia A Tour to England, has so far lost seven players. James Pattinson, Pat Cummins, Ben Cutting and Peter Forrest have all been injured, but perhaps most surprisingly Mitchell Starc, George Bailey and Steve Smith were flown home for the practice match in Darwin - Smith to play for Australia A, while Bailey and Starc played for the Australian side.
Curiously, in the second scratch match in Darwin, Pattinson seemed to have recovered from the injury that sent him home from the Australia A tour to England, and took 1/26.
Howard explained why Bailey and Starc changed squads. "George Bailey is the T20 captain, and with a tour coming up it was very important that he got that preparation," he told ESPNcricinfo. "Depending on say Mitchell Starc, who spent the whole season over there for Yorkshire, he was only ever going to be joining the A team for a short while."
Yet, in the original correspondence with CA about this tour, there is no mention that Starc, Smith and Bailey will have to go home. Nor is there any mention that the Australia A squad will be a clash for certain players, or any mention of the Darwin camp. According to Howard, the Darwin camp was on the books since April. However, no formal details were sent to ESPNcricinfo about the scratch match or squad size until the 7th of August.
The original purpose of the A tour to England was for a fairly strong team to experience the conditions at a near-Test standard ahead of next years Ashes. It was the first A team to tour England since 1995. Because of the injuries and players that have been withdrawn, the current team is much more like an experimental A team. Players like Tom Cooper, who scored only one Sheffield Shield hundred last year (an unbeaten 203*), and Joe Burns, a 22-year-old with only 17 first class games to his name, would not necessarily have been part of a middle order in an Ashes preparation squad.
According Howard, CA is currently overseeing 45 players, which includes such players as Adam Voges and Usman Khawaja who are playing county cricket. It is from these 45 that CA has selected their senior Australia team, and the two Australia A teams. It has spread the talent in Australia very thinly. Ricky Ponting and Ryan Harris are two players who played in none of the sides.
In a squad where seven players have gone home, only three have replaced them. Phil Hughes is the latest inclusion to the Australia A squad to replace Forrest. "Hughes, Khawaja, Voges, all those players were in England and were well and truly prepared for who was going to come in during the period," Howard said. "We've been monitoring their performances, and you can consider them as part of the squad."
Hughes was in the UK playing for Worcestshire. Only a week earlier Phil Hughes was interviewed by ESPNcricinfo, and said how disappointed he was to miss out on the Australia A squad. Hughes made 51 batting at number four in the first innings.
The final day of Australia A's tour closer at Edgbaston was called off without a ball being bowled on the last day, without the England Lions first innings being completed.