Australia in South Africa 2013-14 January 23, 2014

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

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Andrew on January 25, 2014, 3:41 GMT

    @waymore Lonesome - IF it wasn't for balancing the budget, that would be the way to go. Unfortunately 20/20 cricket pulls more people to one game - than a State gets to Shield matches in a season. The reason it sits smack bang in the middle of our summer is because of the Holiday season.

  • Andrew on January 25, 2014, 3:37 GMT

    @David_Boon on (January 24, 2014, 23:21 GMT) - I am sure that Pat Howard would prefer to have his players playing proper Shield cricket before the tour, just like I am sure he is not in charge of Cric Oz's treasury & scheduling the Domestic summer. == == == Given that UNFORTUNATELY 20/20 is here to stay (at least in the mid term), we have to think around the timing hurdle that 20/20 causes. I have been saying for 2 years that the Future League is the solution to a lot of problems we currently have. Problems it can help are; rehabilitation of quality cricketers BEFORE Test & BBL obligations; tweaking the rules to favour batting long (via bonus pts); valuable warm up for the February/March tours that Oz have had every year for the last 30yrs. Make this comp a genuine 2nd tier comp at FC quality/status. I would say that minus the Inetrnational stars & retired journeymen - the homegrown talent of the ECBs Div2 County wouldn't be too much different to the FL in quality homegrown talent!

  • Bernard on January 24, 2014, 23:21 GMT

    Awesome job Pat Howard. Bowling against the WA second XI minus anyone capable of playing big bash is the perfect preparation for facing Hashim Amla. I'm sure the 17th best batsman in WA is just as good as Amla or AB.

    I hate T20, its ruining cricket.

  • Michael on January 24, 2014, 2:59 GMT

    "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"

    Well, who is responsible for this scheduling? It's not as if CA didn't know there was a tour coming up. They really could have taken this into account when organising their schedule. I have no sympathy for Pat Howard and his ilk, but I do have sympathy for the players who have to put up with this mess.

  • Kevin on January 23, 2014, 21:55 GMT

    It's a disgrace that the Sheffield Shield has to take a back seat to the BBL.

    As a performance manager, Pat Howard has again failed miserably in his job.

    Howard should be demanding Australian players have an opportunity to push for selection by playing Shield games prior to tests tours. Those selected, and fringe/backup players should then be able to play in the proper format leading to test conditions.

    If he doesn't call for more traditional cricket to be played, at the right times, he should be shown the door. On his performance over the last few years he should be shown the door anyway.

    Australian players needing to travel overseas to get match practice for a test series while in an Austraian season, fair dinkum - give me a break.

  • Sriram on January 23, 2014, 15:42 GMT

    Mighty challenge for Harris and Watto to get thro' SA tour without injury. Patto could come in but Harris is key

  • Karl on January 23, 2014, 14:08 GMT

    This is what I admire about Aussie cricket they look for matches to play even if there is no international matches their board creates matches thus not giving them a chance get rusty. India learn take note this is how you get your players into gear as an Indian fan Im allowed to say this.

  • Aswin on January 23, 2014, 13:57 GMT

    The scheduling is just so ridiculous

  • Dummy4 on January 23, 2014, 12:54 GMT

    This is as farcical as England test players playing for different counties to get match practice. The form of Australia will be watched very closely in South Africa to see how the BBL might affect it.

  • Dummy4 on January 23, 2014, 12:23 GMT

    I think they should have had the Sheffield Shield going all the way through the Tests and then have the final the week after the last test. Then have the Ryobi Cup going right before the one day internationals and during it.

    Then we finish off the summer with a bit of fun with the Big Bash League for say, two weeks max. This thing feels like it's wearing out it's welcome going this long and I don't know how long it's been going, just feels like there's been a hundred matches already.

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