England secure stiffer preparation
Australia will expect the reciprocal fielding of strong opposing teams when they tour England in 2015 after the ECB secured a dramatic Cricket Australia backflip over the composition of the XI to face Alastair Cook's tourists in their final fixture before the first Test in Brisbane.
Pressure imposed by the ECB about the strength of the New South Wales team to appear at the SCG from November 13, during a concurrent round of Sheffield Shield matches, has led to CA selecting another near Australia A team for the match, in addition to the four-day game in Hobart that precedes it.
Each state will be affected, as Ed Cowan, Phillip Hughes, Usman Khawaja, Aaron Finch and Adam Voges are among those set to appear, in addition to a selection of NSW players. By being named to face the Englishmen a week before the Test rather than playing Shield cricket, it also appears likely that none of the aforementioned batsmen will be part of the Gabba Test squad to be named on November 12.
CA's decision has raised plenty of eyebrows around the states, who are unhappy to be losing first-choice players at such short notice from the Shield. Questions have also been raised privately about why CA was not quite so insistent when their own Ashes tourists faced a weakened Somerset and Worcestershire in Ashes warm-up matches earlier this year.
Pat Howard, the team performance manager, has claimed that the change is the result of CA's desire to give players of interest an additional sight of international opposition, as much as any pressure from the ECB. Neither the Australia A team for Hobart nor the Invitational XI for Sydney will feature too many fast bowlers, as the selectors prefer to keep their powder dry for the Tests themselves.
"We feel this match presents a good opportunity to give a core group of talented batsmen from a number of states, further experience against a strong international line-up," Howard said.
"We continue to look for opportunities to develop our batsmen and taking part in matches like this only helps in that area. The ECB is supportive of this plan. It wanted us to field a strong line-up, so we will use the opportunity to promote key players in the Australian system. In return, we look forward to the ECB fielding powerful teams for the touring Australian side in 2015.
"We appreciate the cooperation of all the state associations in supporting this plan, particularly as it coincides with the third round of Shield matches."
With a full Sheffield Shield programme every week in the run up to the first Test, England were concerned about facing understrength opposition. According to reports, a complaint was made to CA executive management. A key feature of England's success on the previous Ashes tour was their vigorous warm-up schedule, with three first-class matches.
On their last tour of India, England were denied the opportunity to face any specialist spin bowling in their warm-up fixtures but won the subsequent Test series 2-1.
England's first warm-up fixture is a three-day match against Western Australia Chairman's XI captained by Michael Beer and including the Queensland batsman Chris Lynn, for which England rested Kevin Pietersen, Graeme Swann and Stuart Broad while Cook was ruled out with a back injury.
Their preparations for the first Test will then escalate with a four-day match in Hobart against Australia A before what will now be a demanding fixture in Sydney.
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here