Pat Cummins, Steve Smith, David Warner and Josh Hazlewood will return from the IPL choc-full of Twenty20 cricket, but with no long-form match play since the Sydney Test in early January.
In the tightly-compacted schedule there will be just one opportunity for the superstar quartet to have a last-minute tune-up on December 11, when Australia A plays a three-day pink ball tour match against the Indians under lights at the SCG.
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However, it’s understood selectors will lean towards not playing Cummins, Smith, Warner and Hazlewood for Australia A because giving them a mental and physical freshen-up after months overseas in the bubble will be of greater importance.
Virat Kohli and India’s IPL stars are every chance to play in that match in what could be an unusually high profile tour game even without the likes of Smith and Warner, with Fox Cricket to send out their own commentary team to broadcast it live.
“We’ll wait for Cricket Australia to announce the schedule, but if quality cricket like that is available, Fox Cricket will certainly be looking to show it,” said Fox Cricket chief, Matt Weiss.
“We’ll be hoping some of the biggest superstars in the game will warm-up for the day-night Test.”
The Indians – who named their squads on Tuesday – will have the same concerns about freshening up their stars after the IPL, but are more likely to field a Test-like team at the SCG given they purposefully requested a pink-ball warm-up game to prepare for their first-ever day-night Test on Australian soil.
India has already lost stars Ishant Sharma and Rohit Sharma to IPL injuries and during a COVID summer, ensuring players don’t burn out is seen as a huge priority leading into the first pink ball Test which kicks off on December 17 in Adelaide – particularly when Smith, Warner, Cummins and Hazlewood have been isolated in an overseas bubble since late August.
The four – plus India’s IPL stars – will only just emerge from their two-weeks quarantine in Sydney from November 11 before launching straight into a white ball international series against India spanning from November 27-December 8; playing two one-dayers and two T20s in Sydney and one of each in Canberra in the middle.
In another quirk of the COVID schedule, there will be two tour matches played between Australian and Indian teams before the Test series – the first at Drummoyne Oval in the middle of the limited overs series – meaning both heavyweights will have seen plenty of each other before ball one in Adelaide.
Mitchell Starc will return for NSW on Friday, alongside Tim Paine, Matt Wade, Travis Head, Nathan Lyon, Marnus Labuschagne and Joe Burns in the Sheffield Shield.
Selectors will look to play some of these red ball stars combined with bolters like gun all-rounder Cameron Green in the first tour match between Australia A and India’s red ball only players at Drummoyne.
It’s unknown at this point whether the Australia A side for the second and final tour game at the SCG will feature any Test players, but the option is there for selectors if they do change their minds on Smith or Warner, or need to get another hit or gallop into someone.
Even for players of Smith, Warner, Cummins’ and Hazlewood’s class, not having a proper red or pink ball warm-up is far from ideal, particularly going into battle against Kohli and the world’s best.
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In Smith and Warner’s case, their nearly 12 months without a red ball match, comes only two summers after they also served a year-long ban from all formats for ball-tampering.
The SCG may throw the gates open to Sydney’s large Indian fan base for the tour game, and Fox Sports believe the prospect of Kohli playing a prime time pink ball game is worth making a big deal of to launch what shapes as a bumper Test series, which looks increasingly likely to include a Boxing Day Test in COVID-free Melbourne.