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September 7, 2013

How Australia will prepare for the return Ashes

Matt Cleary
Players trying to make it to the Australian squad for the final two Tests will get to wow the selectors with their skills in the Big Bash League  © Getty Images
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Given England have now won three (Three! Count them damn you! Three!) straight Ashes series - two in England, one in Australia - and are looking fairly good to stick it to Australia again on home turf - Again! Damn you! - one would think Australia's cricket authorities would give the chosen Test XI the best possible preparation for a five-Test series and potentially 25 days of long-form cricket in Australia.

Instead they'll play one-dayers in India. Preparation for that will be T20s in India. Two and a half weeks after getting back from India, the first Test will be played in Brisbane.

Yes sirree, Bob Simpson! For three weeks from mid-September there's the Champions League T20 competition in India, featuring upwards of 20 Australian Test cricket aspirants. Straight after that Australia will play seven one-day internationals against India in India.

Eighteen days later, the first red ball of the first Ashes Test.

Now, it's a top country, India. Terrific food. I do enjoy that Kingfisher beer. And the locals know cricket like historians know things about the olden days.

But playing a one-day series in India as preparation for an Ashes series in Australia is as useful as playing one-dayers in Sharjah in 57-degree heat. It is wrong-headed. It is just wrong. Stuff it - it's insane.

And so these cricketers will come home from India, spend a couple days battling jet lag, unpacking and "freshening up" before settling in to prepare for the Ashes. Presumably they will play a Sheffield Shield game. But we don't know when because Cricket Australia hasn't released the draw. You can find out where Big Bash games are on, though. So there is that.

Those who remain in Australia to contest the venerable Sheffield Shield competition will do so against clubbies and kids, and not the elite of the Australian game. And if you want to turn out cricketers prepared for Test cricket, this cannot be.

England, meanwhile, will contest three first-class fixtures - a three-day match against Western Australia on the bouncy old WACA; a four-day match against Australia A on green and juicy Hobart; and another four-day match versus New South Wales on the spin-friendly Sydney Cricket Ground.

This, people, is what preparation for an Ashes Test series in Australia should look like. Not one-dayers in India. Not two weeks in the nets. Not a game or two of club and/or Shield cricket.

On top of that, after three Tests of the Ashes series, those not in the team will be trying to force their way into the final two Tests by playing… Big Bash League T20s. At least they are not in India. There is that.

The Sheffield Shield competition, meanwhile - for several decades a highly intense testing ground of a cricketer's Test cricket readiness - will trundle along from September some time with empty grounds hosting club cricketers and kids, and missing a host of players who should be auditioning for the Test team by playing off against other aspirants for the baggy-green cap.

This can't be just me.

Perhaps the Cricket Australia board and the likes of Mark Taylor, Rod Marsh, Greg Chappell and John Inverarity (a smart man who used to teach mathematics) know better what preparation for an Ashes campaign in Australia should look like compared to someone who last played fourth grade cricket in Canberra in 1989.

But surely it can't look like this.

Surely! Surely! Shirley! Australia's Test cricket aspirants should be playing four or five first-class four-day Sheffield Shield games before the Ashes series. Everyone in, from Michael Clarke down through the last contracted man and onwards into the last man chosen for the last state team. Everyone who wants to play Test cricket for Australia rumbling in the jungle, and the Test team picked on form.

You'd have Harris at Clarke, Siddle versus Hughes, Nathan Lyon tossing them up to Warner, Khawaja and Hughes, and any Academy kid who's good enough to have a crack. Young batsmen who make first-class centuries against Test-class bowlers would announce themselves. Old lags could validate themselves. The Australian public would know who's fair dinkum.

Few years ago a young Glenn McGrath earned much kudos for bouncing an ageing Allan Border and giving the old boy lip. Border gave it to him back. And marked the lanky Narromine boy down for later. Today a young McGrath would be bowling low full tosses to a Delhi Daredevil.

Why? Because boards and players and the god of television are bedazzled by the money of T20. The Sheffield Shield has been emasculated because of it. And Australia's lost three straight Ashes series because of that.

Say they ain't.

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Matt Cleary writes for several Australian sports and travel magazines. He tweets here

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Keywords: Scheduling

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Posted by popcorn on (September 10, 2013, 4:03 GMT)

I agree with Matt Cleary entirely. The Selectors should send a second string attack - an Australia A Team to India for the 7 ODIs in October which have no relevance to the immediately more important Ashes commencing November 21. This will also be a good way to look ahead towards the 2015 World Cup Down Under.No Clarke,Watson,Hughes,Johnson,George Bailey - he will be a good Number 6 in the Test Side.They,should only play Sheffield Shield Cricket. Send Finch,Warner,and other One Day Specialists to India. Also remember that Australia are going to South Africa soon after The Ashes to play Test Cricket. THAT is the time to push in the Big Bash League.The Ryobi Cup should be AFTER The Ashes, and commence January 8.Until The Ashes are over, ONLY Sheffield Shield Cricket should be played from end September until January 7.

Posted by   on (September 9, 2013, 9:43 GMT)

True cricket fans (and club players) completely agree with you Matt. The only good thing CA and NSWCA have done this year, is to continue to keep T20 out of club cricket (outside of a 1st grade level).

Going to India before a Test series of any kind to play ODI's and T20 cricket is pathetic. If its for a full blooded series including Test matches, go for it. If its not, stop pretending its anything but a money grab. I hope our Test players also recognise this and request to be "rotated in case they get injured." I couldn't care if we sent Australia's U19's side to India to play. It would be much better than sending anyone of our Shield players.

Posted by Informed_Player_Management on (September 8, 2013, 12:12 GMT)

Of the test players, only Watson, Clarke and Wade have been carried over into the ODI team. It's not too much of a worry if two out of the first choice XI are going to waste their time playing meaningless ODIs.

Posted by   on (September 7, 2013, 23:03 GMT)

they did this to Hughes in 84 before the series of death against the rampant Windies. I would love to see some of the Test squad refuse to tour.

Posted by   on (September 7, 2013, 14:24 GMT)

@ RyanHarrisGreatCricketer and you seem to be forgetting that that team had Warne, Mcgrath, Lee, Hayden, Langer, Ponting, Hussey, Clarke & Gilchrist

Posted by arm_chair_Ed on (September 7, 2013, 11:35 GMT)

But I thought there was little overlap between the Aus Test & ODI teams?

Posted by ishrat1971 on (September 7, 2013, 10:51 GMT)

@ Palash Saumya Banerjee No Sir I cannot, maybe I am dense but how does playing seven ODI's prepare a team for Five Tests.

Posted by hhillbumper on (September 7, 2013, 10:50 GMT)

Palash.Yep hit and giggle cricket in India is really good preperation for test cricket. While veryone should play India so we can learn how to doctor pitches properly and nobble the umpires it won't help in Aus.

Posted by   on (September 7, 2013, 8:31 GMT)

In 2010 Australia prepared for the Ashes by touring India and then playing pyjama cricket against Sri Lanka. We all know how well Australia did in that Ashes series :-)

Posted by   on (September 7, 2013, 8:21 GMT)

Australia will come back hard. aus will beat eng in returning ashes, though, England have a decent side. and it will be benificial for aus to face WC India,because instead of playing warm-ups against such (Western Australia,Australia A,New South Wales) minor teams.. i guess people can easily understnd what i m pointing about.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Matt Cleary
Matt Cleary reckons he watched more of the 1978-79 Ashes series than any eight-year-old. Despite this punishment - Geoff Boycott batting for days - Cleary was hooked. As a journalist he's written about sport, travel, beer, wine, swimming with stingrays in the Alice waters of Bora Bora, and touring Australia on a four-month lap, playing golf. Yet he counts doing ball-by-ball commentary for ESPNcricinfo as the most fun he's had with a keyboard. He writes for several of Australia's sports and travel magazines, notably Inside Sport, Inside Cricket, Golf Australia and Rugby League Week. @JournoMatCleary

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