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Australia intrasquad showdown could decide Ashes selections

Similar to 2019, Australia are lining up a match between a large contingent of players

Marcus Harris caresses one through the covers, Australia vs India, 4th Test, Brisbane, 4th day, January 18, 2021

Marcus Harris is making a strong case for a starting place in the Ashes  •  Cricket Australia

Australia are close to solving their Ashes logistical jigsaw, with selectors expected to hold off finalising a Test squad until T20 World Cup stars face the best of the rest.
Administrators will likely wait until Australia's final World Cup pool game, against West Indies on Saturday, before locking in key dates and details. But the stage is set for a star-studded match involving an enlarged squad of Ashes 'possibles and probables' on the Gold Coast.
It's understood the most likely scenario is players will learn whether they are part of coach Justin Langer's plans for the first Test, beginning on December 8 at the Gabba, at the end of the intra-squad clash.
Australia and England's multi-format players were initially expected to share one charter flight from the UAE to Queensland, creating an obvious issue if one side progressed to the final while the other failed to advance beyond the group stage.
The Ashes rivals will still likely depart together if both reach the semi-finals. But there is now a chance that Langer's team could fly out earlier if eliminated this weekend, with England on the cusp of securing their place in the final four.
Some of Australia's World Cup squad members may fly home separately, with Adam Zampa set to avoid quarantine altogether by returning to Sydney. But the bulk of the World Cup squad will assemble for the selection shootout that Langer and chairman of selectors George Bailey will use to resolve multiple conundrums, including the final two spots in Australia's top six.
The high-stakes showdown follows the template used by Cricket Australia in 2019, during a brief window between England hosting the one-day World Cup and an Ashes series. Marnus Labuschagne and Cameron Bancroft batted themselves into Australia's Test squad with gritty performances in that corresponding game.
"It was a really good thing. It keeps players under pressure," Langer said after retaining the urn in 2019.
It remains unclear whether Will Pucovski will be part of the Ashes bootcamp, with the prodigy at risk of missing a further Sheffield Shield match as he treads an uncertain path to the first Test because of concussion.
Pucovski was forced to sit out Victoria's season-opening Shield win over NSW because of a blow to the helmet. Victoria had been upbeat Pucovski, in the box seat to open alongside David Warner in Brisbane, would be cleared to play their next Shield game beginning on Friday.
But coach Chris Rogers said on Monday the prodigy still has symptoms related to the 10th concussion of his career. NSW and Victoria are set to play a third Shield match, later this month at the SCG.
Test aspirants from the two squads have already given rivals a seven-week head start in the race for Test spots. Incumbent Test opener Marcus Harris and Peter Handscomb posted centuries in Victoria's season-opening Shield win, while Usman Khawaja and Travis Head have impressed in recent weeks.
"Khawaja has to be right up there. You can't score that many runs and not be in the conversation," Rogers said on SEN. "It might come down to who plays the best in the Australia versus Australia A game."