Henriques A captain in name alone
In Donnie Brasco, Al Pacino's beaten down mob footsoldier Lefty Ruggiero has a moment of pause. Usually harbouring a healthy sense of his own worth, he ponders for a moment to Johnny Depp, playing the title character, about where he actually fits into the grander scheme of Mafia things. "Who am I?" he asks, before providing the answer. "I'm a, a spoke on a wheel … and so are you."
A similar realisation hit the Australia A captain Moises Henriques on the eve of his team's match against Alastair Cook's Englishmen in Hobart. Still jetlagged after returning home from a limited-overs tour of India during which he only played in the opening Twenty20 match, Henriques is set to lead out a team over which he has very little control, not even dictating the batting order as captains are invariably entitled to.
Up north in New South Wales, Josh Hazlewood is similarly at the mercy of central control. As one of eight fast bowlers chosen to be groomed for possible Test match selection this summer he has been rested from the Blues' match against Victoria in Melbourne. Hazlewood did not bowl at all well in the opening match against Tasmania at Blacktown Oval, and in the opinion of his state bowling coach Geoff Lawson needs more time in the middle, not less.
Australian cricket's direction is increasingly dictated by central control, the power residing ever more prominently with Cricket Australia's management in Melbourne. The national team keys are held by the executive general manager team performance, Pat Howard, and it is he and the national selectors who have dictated how Henriques will lead his team, and how much Hazlewood will play. During the India series it was mused more than once that the prevailing ODI playing conditions left captains largely powerless. Likewise Henriques, who will lead by following orders.
"All the roles are already predefined for a one-off match like this, and I think most of the decisions I make will be just on the park and things like that," Henriques said. "Or the roles will be self defined or defined before the game starts, and anything that happens during the match will be more my responsibility.
"I got in yesterday midday to Hobart, feeling okay at this stage, slept pretty well last night through exhaustion more than anything. I should be right for tomorrow. We had plenty of time over there to help ourselves to great training facilities and good coaching, so whilst I wasn't playing cricket I felt I was still improving as a cricketer. I feel like I can come back now and get back into some four-day cricket, and there's going to be a bit before the BBL starts."
Among the pre-ordained dictates of CA will be to ensure the likes of Alex Doolan, Shaun Marsh and Usman Khawaja get plenty of opportunities to bat against the touring attack. As the next best batsmen outside the Test team, they will be chasing individual goals at Bellerive Oval, and the order in which they walk out to bat will fascinate. All are No. 3 batsmen by trade, but in a line-up also including Michael Klinger, Callum Ferguson, Glenn Maxwell and Tim Paine there will be plenty of jostling for position.
Other considerations will include a desire to make England's players sweat - if such a thing is possible in the face of crisp winds sweeping in off the Derwent River - by batting for as long as possible, then bowling with discipline and tact. Ben Cutting has done both with distinction for Queensland, Trent Copeland likewise for the Blues, and the Victorian spinner Jon Holland will be the latest slow left-armer to try his hand at confounding Kevin Pietersen.
One man who might also have been playing this week is Hazlewood, who instead finds himself out of the Blues' team at the behest of Howard and CA's medical staff. His poor bowling against Tasmania did not change the fact that he will not be playing a first-class match this week - the same result would have followed a 10-wicket haul. Lawson's concerns have been voiced publicly and not endeared him to CA or NSW. But as a compromise, Hazlewood may now play for his grade club over the weekend.
Contrast this, for a moment, with England's approach to fast bowlers, as described by James Anderson. "There's a huge amount of trust there - if bowler wants to bowl it's pretty much allowed," he said. "He'll be told when to stop or when they think we should stop and if we don't want to, [we'll] bowl. They get us in really good condition to work through a five-Test series which is unusual for us and to have back-to-back five-Test series will really test us out. As well as being managed by the coaches and selectors, at the moment I think they've got it spot on."
The whys and wherefores of Hazlewood's status are currently the source of considerable debate. Similarly, the fortunes of Henriques, Maxwell, George Bailey, Aaron Finch and Phillip Hughes, all players taking part in Shield or Australia A matches this week just two days after returning from the subcontinent, will be examined closely. Interested observers will include not only those choosing the Australian Test team for Brisbane, but also the players and coaches who have grown increasingly to question the centralised decision-making of Australian cricket. As for Henriques, he is doing all that a footsoldier can do in the circumstances - his best.
"The only thing I am worried about at the moment is trying to win games for whatever team I am playing for, whether it is down here this week or back at NSW," Henriques said. "The big goal is to put ourselves in position to win the Shield so I think playing good cricket is all I can try and do, and the rest will look after itself."
Said like a spoke on a wheel.
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here