Chance for England to show bench strength
Australia's selectors have been ridiculed for naming a 17-man squad for the first Test, but over the next four days England have a chance to display their strength and depth as the fringe players get a chance to impress against Australia A in Hobart.
With confirmation that James Anderson, Stuart Broad, Steven Finn and Graeme Swann will, barring any last-minute injuries, fly up to Brisbane on Wednesday to prepare for the first Test, a new bowling attack have the opportunity to face Australia's second string in the final warm-up match before the Ashes. Despite the change in personnel, though, England are not going to take their foot off the gas.
"The whole squad and the whole management have looked at this three-match 'series' - against Western Australia, South Australia and this game - as a precursor for the Tests," Graham Gooch, England's batting coach, said. "We want to play good cricket, cricket in the right spirit; we want to try to win the matches, and have a purpose about our cricket."
Given the balance of England's side, with an emphasis on tall pace bowlers, Chris Tremlett's performance will be one of the most interesting. It seems inconceivable that England will manage to sustain the same attack throughout a five-Test series in just seven weeks and Tremlett, with his ability to gain extra bounce, is likely to be first in line as a replacement.
However, it is also possible that England may have to alter the balance of their side if the predicted wet summer for the east coast of Australia doesn't develop and the pitches become dry. The series concludes in Sydney, where the option of playing two spinners could be considered so Monty Panesar's Ashes role may not be restricted to carrying drinks.
Tim Bresnan and Ajmal Shahzad will complete the line-up in Hobart and both will benefit from their first match situation since the end of the English season. Shahzad isn't part of the official 16-man squad, but can do his prospects no harm with a few Australian scalps.
"Things have gone pretty well to plan so far," Gooch said. "The team are improving, and this is another chance to continue that. All our team want to build on that improvement, ready for that first Test at the Gabba. It's a chance for our players to raise the bar, up against a good set of players who are hoping to represent their country one day or already have."
The departure of England's main bowlers rubber-stamps the Brisbane attack - not that there were ever major doubts - and the batting is equally settled with everyone spending decent time in the middle during the opening two games. Given the inherent risk of an untimely broken finger, Eoin Morgan is likely to get an outing with Paul Collingwood, who made 94 against South Australia, making way. It leaves Steven Davies, the reserve wicketkeeper, as the unlucky player who is unlikely to perform before the series starts.
After the announcement of Australia's expanded squad there is the incentive for a number of the home side to put pressure on the major players who are still expected to line-up at the Gabba. Callum Ferguson and Usman Khawaja can add to the debate surrounding the batting order with runs this week as can Steve Smith with bat and ball.
Phillip Hughes will want to start making his point to the selectors after not making the 17-man cut, while in the bowling department Peter George has already had some success against England for South Australia and Mark Cameron has been in good form for New South Wales.
Australia A Phillip Hughes, Ed Cowan, Usman Khawaja, Callum Ferguson, Cameron White (capt), Tim Paine (wk), Steve Smith, Steve O'Keefe, Clink McKay, Mark Cameron, Peter George
England XI (from) Andrew Strauss (capt), Alastair Cook, Jonathan Trott, Kevin Pietersen, Paul Collingwood, Ian Bell, Eoin Morgan, Matt Prior, Steven Davies, Tim Bresnan, Ajmal Shahzad, Chris Tremlett, Monty Panesar