Australia leave World Cup plans to last minute
A crane sits atop Cricket Australia's head office in Melbourne, and scaffolding surrounds the building. It's somehow fitting that after the Ashes debacle, even the physical structure of the organisation is being reviewed, along with the internal workings. More pressing are the modifications to Australia's one-day team, which is still being assembled four days from the naming of the World Cup squad.
On Sunday at the MCG, several men will have 100 overs to prove they should be part of the World Cup defence. It's hard to fathom that after four years of preparation, the selectors could be so undecided that one match could influence their decisions. But Andrew Hilditch said as much when he named the 14-man squad for this game against England, the first in a seven-match series.
What have the selectors been doing for the past year if not finetuning their one-day side for the World Cup? David Hussey hasn't played ODI cricket in 15 months, but has suddenly been thrust in for one game and told that he could earn a World Cup place. If the selectors didn't want him for the 50-over tour of India in October, why is he considered now, when his domestic one-day form is poor? And what of Callum Ferguson and Shaun Marsh, who appeared to be groomed for this world event?
There are even more questions over the make-up of the attack Australia will take to the subcontinent. Brett Lee is back from injury and fighting for a place, Shaun Tait is in with a shot, and together with Mitchell Johnson they could form a fearsome, but potentially expensive, pace trio at the World Cup. That leaves Australia's defensive bowling options thin, but the stand-in captain Michael Clarke believes the mix can work.
"I definitely think you could get the overs out of your spinners, Watto [Shane Watson] and your part-timers," Clarke said in Melbourne ahead of the first ODI against England. "Dave Hussey adds to our bowling as well, bowling his part-time off-spin. I certainly see those three guys [Tait, Johnson and Lee] as quite attacking wicket-taking bowlers.
"As you saw last night, Mitchell, Brett and Shaun, when they're bowling well they can also dry the runs up, especially once the ball gets a little bit older. If you get any sort of reverse-swing with a bit of protection for the guys, they can also do that role of bowling pretty fast and straight and dry the runs up. Any time the ball is coming over 140kph or 150kph at you, it's hard to start against."
The job of tying up an end has often been filled over the past year by the medium-pacer James Hopes, the seamer Clint McKay or the offspinner Nathan Hauritz. But for some reason, Hopes appears to be out of favour and will battle to win a World Cup spot, despite having played 17 ODIs over the past year. McKay is injured and Hauritz is competing with Xavier Doherty, although there is a slim chance both spinners could make the 15-man squad.
It was also odd that the selectors bothered choosing 14 men for Sunday's game against England, especially when all along they were intending to leave Hauritz out. Hussey, Lee, Tait and Doherty need to play to press their claims, meaning that Mitchell Johnson and Peter Siddle will have to rest. Rarely have individual performances mattered more in a single game.
"I don't think it will compromise my captaincy or the team's performance as such," Clarke said. "We've got a squad here, we've got one game tomorrow. It's the last opportunity for players to be looked at before the World Cup selection. That will play a part in selection for this game. But our goal is to win every game we play and to definitely win this series."
The squad for the remaining six games will be chosen after the opening match, and it will almost certainly be the World Cup group minus Ricky Ponting, who is recovering from surgery on his finger. Along with Ponting, Tim Paine is likely to make the World Cup squad, meaning at least one man in the 14-strong group for the first ODI will be axed.
By Wednesday, construction of the World Cup side will be finished. But the work at Cricket Australia headquarters is only just beginning.
Brydon Coverdale is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo