Rain plays havoc with England plans
Where cool temperatures and overcast skies were a major contributor to England's Ashes victory in Australia four summers ago, a similar belt of weather through Hobart is now playing havoc with the meticulous planning of Alastair Cook's men. Two consecutive days of showers have confined the Englishmen to the Bellerive Oval dressing rooms, while the lack of indoor nets due to a redevelopment at the ground has cruelled the players' chances of even cursory preparation.
Graham Gooch, the England batting coach, has taken non-playing members of the squad to the TCA Ground elsewhere in Hobart for use of indoor facilities, but the likes of Kevin Pietersen, Graeme Swann and Stuart Broad are yet to spend any time in the middle with only five allotted playing days left for the tourists before the first Test begins in Brisbane on November 21. In 2010-11 the rain and cloud helped England's seam bowlers to excel in a cool summer, but this time many of the same players have been left cursing the skies over Tasmania while confined to gym work.
"You want to get the cobwebs out of the guys who've not played, get some time in the middle, the bowlers want to iron out any little flaws in their run-ups and get their rhythm," Gooch said. "Cricket is a game of rhythm whether you bat or bowl and certainly if you're sitting in the dressing room you get that sort of malaise of just sitting around.
"I've been to the indoor nets with a few players yesterday and today and no doubt we'll be back there tomorrow if the rain stays around. It's okay there for the non-playing guys but the players had to wait to see if the rain subsided and we could get out there. You make the best of it but it's not ideal. Your enthusiasm goes a little bit, so they do need to be out there because time is short now, five playing days before the first Test left and that's minimal, isn't it?"
England's planning is enormously detailed, as demonstrated by a 82-page list of dietary and food preparation requirements lodged with Cricket Australia by the ECB. But the weather will force several changes to the best-laid blueprints of the team director Andy Flower, especially around the management of the bowling attack. James Anderson appeared likely to sit out the final match against an Invitational XI in Sydney but may now play, with the team for the SCG game now likely to very closely resemble England's first-choice team.
Also affected by the rain are the selectors' thoughts about the batting order. Michael Carberry's unbeaten century on day one had strengthened his case for inclusion at the Gabba with Joe Root batting down the order. Two days of torpor for the rest of the batsmen, including Jonathan Trott and Pietersen, has now made Carberry's inclusion all but essential. Gooch said Carberry's chance arose due to Cook's stiff back after the flight from the north, and had now been further strengthened by the weather.
"An opportunity arose in that first game when Alastair had the stiff back, a condition he'd suffered with in the past, and Michael got a game and took his chance there," Gooch said. "We wanted to see a little bit more of him this game and he's done his chances no harm with playing with 150, and Joe's batted in the middle order when he started, so those options are still open and I don't think the team selection is finalised yet.
"Obviously not being on the field and seeing other guys bat as well, that complicates it a little bit but always I think you have an idea of what your side might be, but getting the batting line-up exactly right comes from watching a few matches. I don't think the side is completely settled at the moment. You want all your players to show form, so he's put a bit of a marker down for himself."
Several Australian batsmen have similar reasons to feel betrayed by the weather, as the likes of Alex Doolan, Shaun Marsh and Usman Khawaja may have seen their chances of swaying John Inverarity and his selection panel washed away. George Bailey is heavily favoured to be named as the sixth batsman in Australia's Gabba squad and received a fiery welcome home from his possible Test team-mate Ryan Harris at Allan Border Field. He will bat again in the Tigers' second innings, while Doolan and company hope vainly for a change in the Hobart forecast.
"I guess you can't do anything about the weather, but it's very frustrating when you're just sitting and watching and waiting," Doolan said. "At this stage the selectors would have a fair idea of who they want to pick in the first Test so I don't know if this is an opportunity or not that I'm wasting at the moment."
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here