Tour match headaches for tourists
Australia's captain Michael Clarke is certain that Phil Hughes will open the batting in the three-day tour match against a Sri Lankan Board XI at Colombo's P Sara Stadium from Thursday. Beyond that things get rather tricky.
Because the match has been bestowed first-class status, the tourists may only pick 11 players, when they have more, particularly in the bowling department, in need of match practice. Apart from Mitchell Johnson and James Pattinson who were in the ODI team, each of Ryan Harris, Peter Siddle, Trent Copeland, Nathan Lyon and Michael Beer are yet to play on tour.
Compounding the headache is that Clarke and the tour selectors Greg Chappell and Tim Nielsen are far from certain about the composition of their best XI for Galle, where the conditions are likely to assist spinners. However they are uncertain whether it would be assistance enough to have Australia play multiple specialist spinners for the first time since Shane Warne and Stuart MacGill - plus Dan Cullen in one Test - on the 2006 tour of Bangladesh.
Shaun Marsh is expected to be given first look at the No. 6 batting spot, but his rival Usman Khawaja may find himself at the top of the order if it is decided to rest Shane Watson after his limited overs exertions.
"I can say Hughesy will open the batting for us and then it would be between Usman [Khawaja] and Marshy to bat No. 6 I would say," Clarke said. "Then we've got to work out do we pick two spinners, do we pick three quicks. Conditions in Galle will determine that one and it's a hard one for selection for tomorrow as well, are we sure which three quicks, do we go for the three who we think are going to play, is it our best attack? There's a lot of questions we need to answer."
Rain sent the Australians scurrying indoors for practice on match eve, and it was in this environment that Clarke got his first genuine sight of the offspinner Lyon's bowling. It is thought that Lyon may be better prepared to adapt to Sri Lankan climes than his nominally senior spin partner Michael Beer, given how elastically Lyon has adapted to the different tactical demands of Twenty20, one-dayers and first-class cricket.
"They've obviously played a bit of cricket in Zimbabwe which I think helped, they got some overs under their belts in pretty slow, turning conditions as well," Clarke said of the pair. "They've been training hard since they got here and Tim's been at every training session, Greg's been at every training session, so if we pick two spinners tomorrow they get that opportunity, and if we only pick one it comes down to their preparation leading in, what they did in Zimbabwe."
Clarke denied that the choice of a single spinner for Colombo would dictate who played in Galle, as the amount of turn available would be the final arbiter on the number of spinners required.
"We still have net preparation that is important, but I still think you need to go on conditions once you get to Galle," he said. "It's hard because you can only fit 11 in [for the tour match], so do we think we're going to play three quicks or two spinners. If I look at the one-dayers, Steve Smith, Xavier Doherty and Dave Hussey played a big part in our success, but I think our fast bowlers statistically got the most wickets, so we need to work out what is the right combination as a bowling unit in the conditions."
Australia's preparations have been punctuated by the release of the Argus review, and Clarke reiterated his happiness with how the team had taken on his message that the size of the distraction was dictated by the players themselves.
"The one point I've tried to push is that in this business everybody has a job to do, and our job as players is to prepare well and perform well on the field," Clarke said. "The other stuff, the administration, the selectors, all the other stuff that goes with our game which is very important, all of that will be taken care of and is out of our control really, so the size of the distraction is determined by us. If we make it a big distraction then it could affect the team.
"But so far on tour, nobody has [made it a big distraction]. We know what we're here to do, we know how important this tour is, and I was stoked the way we won that fourth one-day game of the series, I think it showed a lot of character. What I see in the review is we're trying to make people accountable, we're trying to have measures of performance and trying to make people accountable.
"For us right now the players are accountable to our performances throughout this tour, the one-day tour we knew it was going to be tough cricket and we performed pretty well in quite different and tough conditions. The Test tour's the same, we're ranked 5th in Test cricket, so we need to improve. From the first camp we had up in Brisbane at the Centre of Excellence I think our preparation is outstanding. It's easy to say 'we're going to wake up every day and try to get better', but I know we have."
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo