Australia's Test men sent to Futures League
Australia's heavy scheduling slant towards the Twenty20 Big Bash League has been underlined by the announcement that a sextet of Test players bound for South Africa will have to play for a hodgepodge of states in the modest competition of the Futures League as their only means of match practice.
The marginalisation of the Sheffield Shield to a pair of blocks at the outer fringes of the Australian summer have left Chris Rogers, Alex Doolan, Jackson Bird, Ryan Harris, Peter Siddle and Nathan Lyon with no choice but to play in a round of second XI matches, largely for states they would not otherwise represent.
Rogers, who has rested since the conclusion of the Ashes series, is turning out for South Australia's second string against their New South Wales equivalent at Blacktown Oval, for whom Nathan Lyon will seek to regain his off-spin groove ahead of the trip to Africa.
Harris and Siddle will share the new ball for the Queensland Academy side against the WA second XI, themselves bolstered by the Tasmanian pair of Doolan and Bird, at Allan Border Field. Further complicating matters is that the six Test players will only be available for the first two days of each fixture, as the advance party for South Africa leaves on Wednesday morning.
Pat Howard, the Cricket Australia team performance manager, had previously told ESPNcricinfo that the period between the end of the home Tests and the start of tours commonly scheduled for February and March had been made difficult for the national team due to the lengthy window for the BBL, offering players very little chance to prepare for five-day contests.
"I think in terms of the blocks of season that'll continue, where Ryobi will be played in a block again and we'll see if we can get the balance right with the number of Shield games either side of the BBL and see if we can get that through," Howard said earlier this month. "It's a really complex time of the year, absolutely no doubt about that. But we try to keep our thinking clear.
"For those the selectors identify, we make sure we work from the first Test backwards and work in with the states and the BBL teams, make sure we can incorporate any training or workloads into competitive cricket as well as training. Those plans are in place, you get injuries along the way, you get pressure on performances and suddenly teams wanting to make BBL semi-finals etc. So there are lots of competing interests and it is complex, but it's a great challenge."
Last year the majority of the Australian touring team for the disastrous tour of India commenced the trip with a diet of limited overs or Twenty20 matches behind them, with only the likes of Ed Cowan able to spend time at the National Cricket Centre practising on spinning pitches in preparation for the subcontinent.
While South African pitches are widely considered less of a leap for Australian players than those of India, Michael Clarke's tourists will have the bare minimum one warm-up fixture in Potchefstroom before the first Test in Pretoria from February 12.
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here