Australia will take a cautious approach over the fitness of Ellyse Perry and Tayla Vlaeminck as they start to plan for next year's 50-over World Cup amid the uncertain landscape of the fallout to the Covid-19 pandemic.
The tournament remains scheduled for New Zealand in February and March next year although the qualifying event that was set to take place in Sri Lanka next month has been postponed. New Zealand has led the way in battling the pandemic and could ease to level one restrictions in the near future although their borders are likely to remain closed for the foreseeable future with the exception of a potential trans-tasman 'bubble' with Australia.
New Zealand's women's team is slated to visit Australia in late September for a T20I and ODI tour, which would mark a return to action for both sides, with Australia's season also set to include a one-day series against India in January which would act as the final lead-in to the World Cup.
It was against New Zealand in the final group match of the T20 World Cup that Perry suffered a severe hamstring injury which required surgery that was expected to sideline her for up to six months. That was after fast bowler Vlaeminck was cut from the squad on the eve of the tournament when she was diagnosed with a stress fracture in her right foot and making sure both are ready for the one-day World Cup will be the priority.
"I believe they are both tracking along nicely, we haven't seen them much but the reports I've had is that it's all going pretty well," captain Meg Lanning said. "They are reasonably serious injuries they are coming back from so it's a long process. We want to have them back as soon as we can but the real No. 1 at the moment is the World Cup next year and that's the focus. If they are ready to go in September [against New Zealand] they'll play but not sure on the time frame."
Australia bolstered their allrounder options in their new contract list announced in April with the inclusion of Tahlia McGrath and Annabel Sutherland. National selector Shawn Flegler spoke of McGrath as someone who could help cover for Perry while Sutherland has talked of wanting to push her speed towards 120kph to help provide the point-of-difference that Vlaeminck offers.
Lanning is confident her team would be ready for next year's World Cup even if preparations were disrupted as the game adjusts around Covid-19. Players returned to pre-season training with their states this week but, as it stands, the Australia squad will be unable to get together as a squad in Brisbane as they usually would with various state border restrictions remaining in place.
"We've got the New Zealand series as our first port of call then probably domestic cricket will take center stage," Lanning said. "At this stage we are anticipating the World Cup to go ahead as scheduled but we have to wait and see how that plays out. We have a plan in place but understand things can change pretty quickly."
"I think that [India] series gives us enough preparation. Generally, a couple of games together is nice to get back together but to be fair I think the group we've got has played a lot of cricket together over a long time and if it means we only have a short period of time to get ready then I've got no doubt we'd be able to do that."
What the domestic season looks like remains up in the air amid Cricket Australia's cost-cutting. The prospect of a reduced WBBL may be receding although the Women's National Cricket League - the 50-over tournament that would give fringe players the chance to push for the World Cup squad - could yet face cuts.
"There's nothing concrete as yet, that's being worked through with CA and the ACA and I'm sure they'll come up with the best result for the game and women's cricket," Lanning said. "As players we just want to play as much as we can so we'll just have to wait a little bit longer before we know exactly what is happening."
Lanning is expected to return to the Melbourne Stars for the WBBL and said she had decided her future but could not confirm anything until the contract embargo ends. She has used her recent downtime to earn her Level 3 coaching badge, something head coach Matthew Mott has encouraged his players to undertake and which Lanning sees as being important with an expected cut in support staff around the national teams.
"Resources are going to be a little bit less than we are probably used to," she said. "So we are going to have to take up some of that coaching area as players and help each other out so I think it makes sense."