The amazing race: east coast hot spots for first-class cricketers

It is cricket’s version of The Amazing Race. Spread out down the east coast, Australia’s Test players have been sent to the Sheffield Shield from Thursday to pick up some final pre-series clues — or in a few cases take a crash revision course — in the art of facing and bowling the red ball.
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Four are in Hobart, four are in Melbourne and another four are on their way to Brisbane, the site of the first Test next week. They will assemble in Brisbane next Monday, equipped as they can be for the first of three five-day tussles with the top-ranked Test nation, South Africa.

If it all seems a bit rushed, a little chaotic,  the Australian backroom staff organising and booking flights, handling other logistics and monitoring the players’ health would no doubt concur.

Ordinarily, a Test squad on home soil would come together very soon after it was chosen, setting about preparing for the challenge before them almost immediately.

The first Test against South Africa called for a different approach as a result of a cluttered schedule brought about by the World Twenty20 and Champions League  tournaments. The selectors, knowing the team they would pick for weeks, announced their 12-man unit on Monday and straightaway Pat Howard’s high performance team finalised plans already well in the works to have their players, many long on Twenty20 and one-day cricket experience but short on  the first-class kind, shipped off to various Shield outposts over this weekend.

For at least four — David Warner, Shane Watson, Michael Hussey and Ben Hilfenhaus — the rare interstate appearances are crucial, having not played with anything but a white ball since Australia’s third Test in the West Indies in April.

Left-arm quick Mitchell Starc is also in dire need of reaquainting himself with the traditional format despite rich form for country and franchise in the shorter versions. After flying back from the Champions League with the Sydney Sixers on Tuesday, he had only a day to catch his breath and will be straight back on a plane to Brisbane with Warner, Watson, Michael Clarke and the rest of the NSW team on Thursday.

As it stands, all four Blues players will be withdrawn on Monday from the final day of the Shield game against Queensland at Allan Border Field to link up with their teammates jetting in from Tasmania and Victoria.

They will be substituted, if the match proceeds that long, by Australia A representatives Moises Henriques and Steve Smith and two others, a scenario that has not impressed the Queensland team, which fears the Blues could load up on extra bowlers if the Bulls are chasing a last-day target.

Pressed into the unusual interchanges by the needs of the Australian team, NSW insist the replacements will be made ‘‘in the spirit of the game’’.

‘‘We’ve all just got to understand it’s about what’s best for the Australian team and not too many people can argue about that,’’ Cricket NSW chief executive David Gilbert told Sky Sports on Wednesday.

David Warner – for Australia v West Indies,

Dominica, April 23-27

Ed Cowan – Tasmania v Victoria, MCG,

October 23-26

Shane Watson – Australia v West Indies,

Dominica, April 23-27

Ricky Ponting – Tasmania v Victoria,

MCG, October 23-26

Michael Clarke – NSW v Tasmania,

Bankstown, September 26-29

Michael Hussey – Australia v West Indies,

Dominica, April 23-27

Matthew Wade – Victoria v Tasmania,

MCG, October 23-26

Peter Siddle – Victoria v Tasmania,

MCG, October 23-26

James Pattinson – Victoria v Tasmania,

MCG, October 23-26

Mitchell Starc – Australia A v Durham,

Chester-le-street, August 1-3

Nathan Lyon – South Australia v Queensland,

Adelaide, October 23-26

Ben Hilfenhaus – Australia v West Indies,

Dominica, April 23-27

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