Grand plan for Gabba preparation
A galaxy of flights, an exclusively east coast round of Sheffield Shield fixtures and a schedule left flexible until the last possible moment will allow all members of Australia's Test squad at least one first-class fixture before the start of their tilt with South Africa for the No. 1 ranking.
Australia's likely squad for the first Test in Brisbane from November 9 comprises the captain Michael Clarke, his deputy Shane Watson, David Warner, Ed Cowan, Ricky Ponting, Michael Hussey, Peter Siddle, James Pattinson, Ben Hilfenhaus, Mitchell Starc, Nathan Lyon and one of Brad Haddin or Matthew Wade. Of these, Watson, Warner, Hussey, Hilfenhaus, Starc and Haddin are all at the Champions League Twenty20.
In what was both a compelling demonstration of the Cricket Australia team performance regime's influence, and a major blot against the scheduling of the CLT20 tournament at the outset of the Australian season, the team performance manager Pat Howard outlined the complex machinations required to enable the Test team to get re-acquainted with the red ball.
Depending on the results of the T20 teams competing in South Africa, the Shield round set down for November 2-5 may be shifted forward by a day to November 1, allowing all players to assemble in Brisbane on November 5. There is also an Australia A tour match against the South Africans from November 2-4, though the national selectors are hesitant to show too much of their hand to the opposition a week before the series. Pat Cummins is one bowler who will definitely not be taking part as he prepares for a likely recall for the third Test in Perth.
"We've moved that round of Sheffield Shield to be able to accommodate enough preparation if they need it," Howard said. "Tasmania v SA in Hobart, that game is actually locked away to start on November 1. The other two depend on what's happening after the 24th of October. Then we'll know who's going further in the CLT20.
"The schedule was done on the assumption that all the teams would make the final, and all we did was flip the thinking and assume we're not making the final, and can we move the round forward to leave room for flights out of South Africa. Queensland v NSW is in Brisbane, you've got a three-day game with Australia A and South Africa in Sydney, WA v Victoria in Melbourne. There are direct flights from Johannesburg to Melbourne so that's possible. It's worked out at the level of thinking and logistics to work out what's possible, and recovery times."
Flexibility among state sides to accommodate the wishes of Howard, the national selector John Inverarity and the national team coach Mickey Arthur has been fostered over the past year via the encouragement of greater dialogue between CA and state associations. The selector Rod Marsh has played a role in this discussion as a national coaching coordinator, resulting in greater exposure for players of national interest first delineated in the Argus review.
Chief among these are spin bowlers, with Jon Holland, Lyon, Michael Beer, Jason Krejza and Cameron Boyce all playing early season Shield matches despite a series of pitches more helpful to seam bowlers. Howard said Holland was retained ahead of the in-form batsman Aaron Finch for Victoria's Shield fixture against Queensland at CA's behest. Lyon, meanwhile, is set to play for SA in Hobart alongside his captain Johan Botha, though the surface is likely to favour faster men.
"I know Finch had a wonderful one-day game against Queensland and then to support hopefully Victoria but also Australian processes, Jon was kept on to keep playing and Aaron missed out," Howard said. "The states are working really well with CA, they're doing a wonderful job with the balancing act, looking after the best interests of a very strong Sheffield Shield, but also at times putting Australia's best interests first.
"You can pick up the phone and call every state talent manager and say 'here's what we're trying to do, the national selection panel want to have a look at A, B or C, can we look at that', and it's been very good. We want a very strong domestic competition, we think that's to our competitive advantage, but it's that balance."
Victoria's co-operation is a particularly strong sign of changing times, as the Bushrangers had long been known for taking a self-absorbed approach that elevated the state side to a series of trophy-winning seasons at the possible expense of developing players for Australia. However Arthur said the Bushrangers coach Greg Shipperd and his assistant Simon Helmot were now proving far more open to CA's ideas.
"That's certainly changed," Arthur said. "We sit once every quarter with all the state coaches, and we give them a little information and they tell us what's happening. So the communication is really good and we've emphasised to those guys, exactly what our needs are and how they can best service us.
"When they're getting around the selection table, they certainly know who we've got an eye on, and who we think the next best is. We think that's important that they're in the loop, because then we get that communication."
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here