Australia likely to ditch three-day intrasquad game due to bad weather
Assistant coach Andrew McDonald believes the squad are well prepared for the first Test
Australia are likely to abandon plans for a three-day intrasquad practice match in Brisbane due to the continued bad weather but have confidence in the Ashes preparation they are putting together.
Australia had selected 24 players, minus the absent Tim Paine, to hold a three-day match at Redlands in Brisbane starting on Wednesday (Australia A will then play England Lions) but Queensland's weather has ruined best-laid plans with up to 100 millimetres of rain expected to fall on Tuesday and Wednesday as heavy thunderstorms are forecast. There is also a further thunderstorm forecast for Thursday.
The Australia hierarchy are confident the players who had returned from the T20 World Cup have received adequate centre-wicket practice during their 14 days quarantine with only one session lost to rain, while the remainder of the Test specialists have been able to play anywhere between two and five Sheffield Shield fixtures in the lead-up to the first Test.
Despite Pat Cummins, Josh Hazlewood, Mitchell Starc, David Warner and Steve Smith having not played a first-class fixture since last summer, assistant coach Andrew McDonald believed the prolonged three-week training block coming from the T20 World Cup will have those players well prepared for a change in format.
"We've had fantastic facilities up here," McDonald said on Sunday. "The weather's been challenging at times, but we've still been able to get on in the centre. I think we'll be really well prepared.
"And also these guys have got a lot of Test experience to draw upon. So changing formats is something that they've been able to do and deal with across their careers. This will be no different but I think the advantage in this one is that we've had two weeks of quarantine training to shift gears into Test mode and then we've got another eight days on the other side of that.
"I don't think there's too many Australian teams that would have had potentially a month to build into a red-ball series. So I think that's a real positive. I don't think they'll be too many excuses come that first session."
Cancelling the three-day game would mean the selectors wouldn't have a full match scenario to make their final judgements, although that may not have a huge bearing.
Travis Head and Usman Khawaja are fighting for the final batting spot in the middle order, but chairman of selectors George Bailey said two weeks ago that they were already leaning one way and that what happened ahead of the first Test would not have much of a bearing on the final decision. Bailey also noted that the three-day game was never designed to be a bat-off.
The other choice Australia have to make is who will replace Tim Paine after he stepped away from cricket indefinitely for mental health reasons. Alex Carey and Josh Inglis appear to be neck and neck in the race to debut at the Gabba. Carey has played nine domestic matches, and five Shield games, this summer while Inglis has only played one back in September before he went to the T20 World Cup where he only played one practice game as a specialist batter and faced just three balls.
Australia's attack looks to be set heading into the first Test with Cummins, Hazlewood, Starc and Nathan Lyon likely to be the quartet again as they were last summer. Western Australia quick Jhye Richardson is putting pressure on Starc after taking 23 wickets in four Shield fixtures this year but Australia are keen to have the left-armer in the line-up for at least the Gabba and the day-night Test in Adelaide given Starc's prowess with the pink ball.
Alex Malcolm is an Associate Editor at ESPNcricinfo