Australia seek next pace battery
Even as Australia's enviable battery of young fast bowlers is limbering up for the World Cup, moves are afoot to ensure there will be something of a similar standard to succeed them when the time comes.
Australian cricket has learned much about succession planning in recent times, with the struggles that followed the loss of Shane Warne, Glenn McGrath and others meaning the presence of a strong current crop may actually provide more impetus to ensure they can be adequately replaced in future years.
The announcement of an Australian Under-19s squad for matches against England at home and away over the course of 2015, ahead of the 2016 Under-19 World Cup in Bangladesh, marks another point of that process. Not only will the young men duel with one other for places in the Cup squad, they will also get a taste of how to play in England, the venue where Australia's Ashes fortunes will be decided around the same time as their visit.
Among the pace bowlers selected is Queenslander Sam Rowley, who has notably spent considerable time bowling in the nets to Australia's senior players in the past 12 months. He has been a particularly important cog in the wheel of Australian cricket for all the time he has spent bowling to one Michael Clarke on his visits to the National Cricket Centre.
"The first time I came across Sam was at a bowling clinic of mine in 2013," Australia's assistant coach Craig McDermott said of Rowley. "He came along to that and that's where I first spotted him. Last year and even the year before, every time we had an Australian session we got him along to bowl to the boys, particularly a lot of the one-on-one stuff with Pup last year and this year in Brisbane.
"So it's been beneficial to him and I think he's got some wheels to bowl pretty quick, a nice action, a pretty athletic young guy and can handle a bat ok. He's reasonably tall, pretty athletic build, a good action through the crease, a nice run-up. He got a fair few wickets at the Under-19s carnival, and obviously the selectors have seen something there to pick him."
Rowley grew up in Townsville before moving to Brisbane, and was a product of McDermott's cricket academy over the past two years. A major recent development in the battle for cricket talent around Australia has been the commitment of more money to aid Queensland Cricket in its talent spotting of a vast geographical area and diffuse population, meaning Rowley's case is a significant one.
Other pacemen in the squad include Guy Walker and the allrounder Henry Thornton. McDermott helped oversee the emergence of the generation now populating the Australian team, through his work with Josh Hazlewood, Mitchell Starc, James Pattinson and others at what was then the Centre of Excellence in 2009 and 2010. The likes of Gurinder Sandhu, Joel Paris and Jason Behrendorff are currently the next cabs, and the Under-19 tour will be a way of sorting out who can follow them.
"I started in 2009 and that was when they were first in there as full-time or part time athletes," McDermott said. "There was Jimmy Faulkner as well, Patto, Starcy, Hazlewood, Peter George. It's been a bit sparser since then. The bowlers out of the last World Cup in the UAE last year, Guy Walker is one, Gurinder Sandhu is the one who's come through from the Under-19s to play for Australia.
"You had Mark Steketee as part of that team, Harry Conway and Joel Paris as well who's done very well but been out injured for about six months now. They're probably the guys who've come through that second World Cup team. The proof will be in the pudding over the next little while to see if any of those guys can after the Under-19s this year get into a rookie-player contract. The more young quicks we've got coming through, the better.
"You want it to be as seamless as you can have. We are going to have a fairly seamless one from where we currently stand with the four or five young guys around at the moment, plus the likes of Nathan Coulter-Nile, Jason Behrendroff, Joel Paris and Gurinder Sandhu are there in case we lose the other young good guys we've got in the squad now. We've got seven or eight good young blokes who can step up to the plate at any stage."
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @danbrettig