Australia’s 3½-month tour of duty and discovery in England ends on Monday, but for many in Michael Clarke’s team, and the people managing it, the test of endurance is just beginning.
Of the ODI squad that has stayed in England throughout the sodden five-match series, five players – Clarke, Shane Watson, James Faulkner, Phillip Hughes and Matthew Wade – have been there since the end of May, which was two prime ministers and a sacked coach ago.
This week, the selectors must pick a squad for seven ODIs in India in October without harming preparations for the Ashes.
To rest stars might upset the Board of Control for Cricket in India, but it will take some astute management to ensure the likes of Clarke and Watson are fresh for the start of the Ashes on November 21.
The intention, national selector John Inverarity said last week, was for Watson and Clarke to go to India provided they were fully fit.
”It’s a demanding situation for players and selectors to try to get the best of all worlds,” he said. ”We want to take a very strong team to India but we’re not going to take players unless we are confident in their fitness.”
The India series finishes on November 2, leaving Test players in the ODI team just two Sheffield Shield games before the first Test.
While the England selectors had no qualms about resting its big guns for the post-Ashes one-day series – Stuart Broad has been to the Italian Grand Prix, Jimmy Anderson has promoted a film and reportedly dug a vegetable patch – Australian players have trickled home because of injury (Mitchell Starc and Steve Smith) or form (David Warner).
A complication for Cricket Australia is the Champions League, which fills in the gap between the England and India tours. Watson will play for Rajasthan and Mitchell Johnson, in Ashes contention because of the spate of injuries to fast bowlers, for Mumbai.
Retired batsman Mike Hussey, who will represent Chennai in the Champions League, can’t see a solution to the cramped schedule, which he described as ”far from ideal” Test preparation.
But CA can control its own domestic program and Hussey believes the BBL, which carves a seven-week hole in the Sheffield Shield season, is too long.
”It’s pretty obvious they are trying to give a lot of priority to the Big Bash, which is fair enough, but maybe a bit too much emphasis towards the Big Bash,” said Hussey, who has signed with Sydney Thunder.
”The big goal for Cricket Australia was always Test cricket – we’ve just got to make sure we keep our eye on that ball … Most of the players think [the BBL] could definitely be played in a shorter period.”
Hussey believes Australia is capable of winning back the urn in Australia. ”I saw some good signs at the back end of the Ashes [in England]. The boys have gone through some pretty tough times and I felt for them, but I think it’s a great education, they have identified that they do need a bit more stability and hopefully they will stick to a core group of guys that they believe in.
”Everyone started to get more confidence against England towards the end of that series. Hopefully they can take that into our home series. I actually give us a really good chance.”