Andrew McGlashan is a deputy editor at ESPNcricinfo
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Australia are set to leave it late before naming their Ashes squad with the A-team tour of England shaping as a trial for those vying for places. The latter half of the Sheffield Shield season, which will be played using Dukes balls, also shapes a vital part of Australia's planning as they aim for a first away Ashes victory since 2001.
Though the series is still six months away, Australia have just one more Test - next week in Canberra - before facing England from the start of August. Following the Sri Lanka series, attention will be firmly on the white-ball with the World Cup on the horizon, but such has been Australia's problems in England over the last 18 years that they want to give players as much chance as possible to be ready.
The squads for 2013 and 2015 Ashes series were named well in advance - four years ago there were joint squads announced at the end of March for the West Indies and England tours - but, despite the comprehensive victory in Brisbane against Sri Lanka, there remains uncertainty around the Test side while there is also the challenge of reintegrating Steven Smith and David Warner.
If all goes to plan, the banned pair will have made their comebacks for the World Cup despite their recent injuries but the Ashes will be the first Test series they would be involved in since the ball-tampering scandal in South Africa. Smith and Warner would move into red-ball mode when Australia's World Cup campaign ends, but for a significant collection of fringe players the A-tour, which will run concurrently with the tournament, will be a chance to earn selection.
"We probably won't pick the final Ashes squad until quite late," coach Justin Langer said. "I hope I'm not talking out of school with the other selectors, but I can't see us picking it before the Australian A tour for example. Maybe halfway through or three quarters of the way through. It will be a really good opportunity for the guys who are picked for Australia A while the World Cup is on, to put their hand up."
Kurtis Patterson, who made his debut in Brisbane, and Will Pucovski, who narrowly missed out, could well feature on the A tour to gain experience in English conditions as could the likes of Marcus Harris and Marnus Labuschagne, who won't be part of the World Cup squad. There will also be players featuring in county cricket; Cameron Bancroft (Durham), Glenn Maxwell and Joe Burns (both Lancashire) already have deals with the potential for more to look for pre-Ashes stints.
However, away from the batting, which remains Australia's obvious weakness, there are also questions to be answered over the make-up of the bowling attack with previous Ashes tours showing that it isn't always the tallest, fastest bowlers which are best suited in England. Outside of the main three who are certain to tour, Jhye Richardson has booked his ticket while Peter Siddle has been around the Test squad all season.
Other names in the frame are Chris Tremain, Dan Worrall and James Pattinson with that trio - fitness permitting - having the end-of-season Sheffield Shield season matches to impress with the Dukes ball that will be used in England, which also shapes as a chance for batsmen to shine against the brand of ball that has caused Australians so many problems.
"We've got a really good opportunity through Australia A and the last four Shield games with the Dukes ball and a Shield final," Langer said. "So we'll get a pretty good indication of who is up and running. And then they've all got to stay fit and healthy as well. That's another big part of our fast-bowling stocks, keeping them fit and healthy. I tend to think that if we keep looking after these Test matches [against Sri Lanka] and we keep an eye on what we do in Shield cricket in Australia, the Ashes will look after itself."
Another part of the squad that will challenge the selectors will be whether to include an allrounder. Marcus Stoinis' call-up for the second Test against Sri Lanka suggests he is now in pole position, although his role in the one-day side means he is unlikely to play any more red-ball cricket between now and the end of the World Cup.
"In a perfect world you've got someone who can bowl medium pace," Langer said. "Marnus can bowl some legspin. There's people who can do it. But to be honest there aren't too many teams around the world that have that luxury. You've got to be able to be picked on one of the disciplines alone and that's a great challenge for all of the allrounders in the country."