Alex Malcolm is a freelance writer based in Melbourne
Joe Burns could have a final chance to keep his Test place in a head-to-head battle with Will Pucovski after both were named in the Australia A squad for the two warm-up matches against India.
Fellow Test specialists Tim Paine and Travis Head have also been included, but Steven Smith, David Warner, Pat Cummins, and Josh Hazlewood will not play any red or pink-ball cricket prior to the four-Test series.
Selectors named a 19-man Australia A squad for two three-day tour games against India in Sydney on the same day they announced the 17-man Test squad. The most interesting aspect will be the head-to-head between Burns, who made just 57 runs in five Sheffield Shield innings, and Will Pucovski for who will open in the Test series following the latter's back-to-back double hundreds.
"[It] could well do," national selector Trevor Hohns said when asked if the A-games could decide the Test line-up. "Particularly those who won't be playing any cricket between now and the Test match [we] will certainly be using the Australia A games to give us an indication of where some of our players are at that stage."
Hohns indicated that the judgement call will be between current form and the success the Test side had last season during which they went to No. 1 in the world. Although Burns did not score a century last summer his partnership with Warner has been a success.
"If we're looking at where Will bats up the top there, the partnership that our openers have formed over the last 12 months have been instrumental in helping us get to that No.1 position in world cricket," he said. "So we have to take that into account, but of course it would be nice to have everybody in form right now."
Hohns added there wasn't any consideration given to keeping Pucovski or Cameron Green, who is also in both squads as well as the limited-overs set-up, away from the Indians ahead of the Test series.
"We are using these games really as preparation," Hohns said. "Also, it gives our players the opportunity to have a look at the Indian players so I don't see that as an issue at all."
The first tour game against India A will take place at Drummoyne Oval, starting on December 6, while the final two games of the Australia India T20 series is happening across town at the SCG. The second game is a day-night fixture at the SCG starting on December 11, which will be the final warm-up for both nations prior to the first test in Adelaide.
Paine, Burns, and Head will all likely play in the first fixture after all three played in the opening four rounds of the Sheffield Shield fixtures in Adelaide. Wicketkeeper Alex Carey has also been included in the A squad and looks poised to replace Paine for the second fixture once the T20 series is completed. Carey missed the first four Sheffield Shield rounds due to IPL duty.
But Warner, Smith, Cummins, and Hazlewood will not play any long-form cricket prior to the Test series having missed the opening four rounds of the Sheffield Shield due to IPL duties in the UAE. They have all been included in Australia's limited-overs squads but could be rested from some of the six white-ball matches to allow for time at home prior to the Test series.
Mitchell Marsh has been included in the Australia A squad subject to fitness after suffering a serious ankle injury early in the IPL that ruled him out of the tournament and the early rounds of the Shield season.
Moises Henriques, Ashton Agar and Sean Abbott have all been included in the Australia A squad despite being in the limited-overs squads and could well play in one or both of the A matches.
Marcus Harris missed out on the Test squad but has been included along with fellow Victorian's Nic Maddinson and Will Sutherland.
Jackson Bird, Harry Conway, and Mark Steketee have been rewarded for their consistent wicket-taking over recent seasons, joining Michael Neser, James Pattinson, and Mitchell Swepson who have also been included in the Test squad.
Australia A squad Sean Abbott, Ashton Agar, Joe Burns, Jackson Bird, Alex Carey, Harry Conway, Cameron Green, Marcus Harris, Travis Head, Moises Henriques, Nic Maddinson, Mitchell Marsh (subject to fitness), Michael Neser, Tim Paine, James Pattinson, Will Pucovski, Mark Steketee, Will Sutherland, Mitchell Swepson