Not many job candidates get the chance to duel face-to-face with their prospective boss, but that's more or less exactly the scenario that confronted fast bowler Chadd Sayers in Adelaide when bowling to the Australia captain Steven Smith in a Sheffield Shield match last week.
Sayers now believes a striking spell to defeat Smith should hold him in good stead for selection discussions during an Ashes summer in which there is only a slim chance of the hosts' pace-bowling line-up remaining unchanged throughout the five Tests.
On day one of the floodlit Shield fixture between South Australia and New South Wales, Sayers gave Smith a thorough working over, squaring him up repeatedly with deliveries moving away from the bat and then pinning him lbw in the first innings by running one back the other way towards middle stump. Smith's anger at his dismissal was plain to see, but Sayers hopes the episode will be looked kindly upon in coming weeks by Smith and the national coach and selector Darren Lehmann, who was also in attendance at Adelaide Oval.
"It was nice to get a couple decent wickets, especially Steven Smith to show him the stuff I have to offer I guess," Sayers said in Adelaide. "You've got to play hard against him and show him what you've got. To get him out like I did was good for my prospects of playing Test cricket. He's only the captain, not a selector, so it was nothing personal, he's a great bloke and I get along with him well."
Sayers has been close to Australian selection twice before: first, he was a part of the Test squad that went to New Zealand in February 2016, and then when he was 12th man in the day-night Test against South Africa in Adelaide late last year. In both cases it was the tightest of calls between Sayers and Jackson Bird, but the Redbacks' crafty spearhead is optimistic that this time things could fall his way in the event of injuries during the Test summer.
"I want to play at the highest level I can, and the next level up is Australia," Sayers said. "I've just got to keep putting my best foot forward and putting performances on the board for South Australia and trying to win games.
"I know the big three quicks are going to get the first crack at it. I'm just going to keep putting performances on the board, help South Australia win and be fit and firing if the opportunity comes. I'd like to think that I'd be in the mix of one or two [next in line]."
Less forthcoming was the West Australian Nathan Coulter-Nile, who also bowled well in the opening Shield round, as part of the Warriors attack which razed Tasmania for 63, and added some more than handy lower-order runs as well. Despite his strong displays on the recent limited-overs tour of India, Coulter-Nile was adamant that Bird remained ahead of him in the queue.
"Absolutely not, unless something drastic happens to the three big quicks," Coulter-Nile said in Perth when asked whether he thought he would play in the Ashes. "Also Birdy [Jackson Bird]. We saw Birdy bowl out here and he was unbelievable. I hadn't seen him bowl in a while, he was difficult to face all game. Those four have probably got the first crack at it but five Tests in a row is hard work so hopefully I can be there or thereabouts when the time comes."
Another potential Test aspirant is Daniel Hughes, the New South Wales left-hander thrust onto centre stage when Smith chose to drop last season's leading Shield runmaker, Ed Cowan, to make room for the 28-year-old. In Adelaide, Hughes vindicated the decision by making an important 57 at No. 6 to ensure the Blues built a match-winning first-innings advantage, and indicated that the whole episode had given him pause as to his international readiness.
"It's a long list of guys for that no. 6 spot in the first Test, isn't it, so it'll be interesting to see who they go with," Hughes said. "I'm ready. I'm 28 now, I've been playing professional cricket for six years. I'm more mature now, I'm ready to go - I've never been more ready for an opportunity if I get it.
"It was a bit surprise when I heard [Smith] him say that [Hughes had Test potential]. The whole Ed Cowan thing was a surprise to me as well; he played extremely well last year and he's played well for a number of years now. Ed's scored lots of runs, and I'm in good form so it was nice to get the nod from the captain. I actually got a text off him [Cowan] before the game. He said, I know it's been a bit of a circus the last week but I want you to know that I wish you all the best and I hope that you do go out there and score a 100 and put your name in lights."