Australia's fast eight for Ashes
Australia's selectors have identified eight fast bowlers in line for Ashes duty during the summer and told their states to prepare them accordingly. The bowlers themselves, however, have not been made aware of their status as the men most likely to share the new ball against England in the five Tests, starting in Brisbane on November 19.
The team performance manager Pat Howard outlined the preparation of a rolling barrage of fast men for the series as he mapped out plans for the home Ashes series, an encounter that may cost him his job should Australia suffer another defeat. The concept of having eight fast bowlers identified, fit and ready for Test matches throughout the series is an upgrade from the five Howard and the former coach Mickey Arthur kept on hand at each Test last summer.
"We'll have eight bowlers available for every Test and these eight bowlers have already been communicated to the states," Howard said. "They know who the watchlist is, they know their bowling loads every single day, it sits on Darren's [Lehmann] desk, they're known. We've said to the states as well that doesn't mean if you have a cracker of a lead-up you won't be considered. There's always that pool for the selectors to call on and make informed decisions."
Given the injury-enforced absence of three Ashes tourists in James Pattinson, Jackson Bird and Mitchell Starc, and Pat Cummins now being on a far less rushed plan to bring him back into the international game after letting his body mature, the pace bowling options available are strong but not limitless.
Ryan Harris, Peter Siddle and Mitchell Johnson are towards the top of the likely list, while Ben Hilfenhaus remains Cricket Australia contracted and Josh Hazlewood is making decent strides for New South Wales and Australia in limited-overs formats.
Nathan Coulter-Nile, Clint McKay and Chadd Sayers are the others expected to be under consideration, having all played for Australia or Australia A in recent times. Others around the team include James Faulkner, who is considered an allrounder and more likely to be part of a five-man attack if chosen.
Howard stated that the official selection policy for the Ashes would be to choose the best XI at all times, fitness permitting, while striking a balance between rewarding performance and making the occasional selection hunch. The coach Darren Lehmann defended the decision to gamble on the teenage left-arm spinner Ashton Agar ahead of Nathan Lyon in the first two Tests in England, claiming performance had been a factor.
"Where you're playing and who you're playing is the key to that," Lehmann said. "We're still performance based, and the Agar selection was done on a lot of right-handers, and he bowled better than Nathan on the A tour. You can't just go on his performances in the last Test match which was four months before that, it was how he was bowling at the time."
Agar is now setting out on the season with the ambition of growing into an allrounder's commission, and opened the batting for the Perth Scorchers on their recent Twenty20 Champions League expedition to India.
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here