Australia A set for first tour since start of pandemic

Australia will send an ‘A’ side abroad for the first time since the pandemic began, with more than 30 of the country’s leading men’s cricketers to head to Sri Lanka later this year.

Four separate squads are set to be named on Friday for an all-format tour of the island nation beginning in June that will also see Australia A play two 50-over matches and two four-day games.

It means a large contingent of players will head to Sri Lanka, with significant overlap between squads for the three T20Is, five ODIs, two Tests and four A fixtures expected.

The main Sri Lanka-Australia white-ball matches will be played in Colombo and Kandy, while the two Tests will both be hosted in Galle.

The A squad, whose games will be played in Colombo and Hambantota, is expected to feature a number of uncapped domestic players who have performed strongly in the Marsh Sheffield Shield in recent seasons.

It could also be bolstered by Test specialists not picked in Australia’s main ODI and T20I squads, or other fringe long-form players like Scott Boland.

Players who were placed on standby for the Pakistan tour such as batters Nic Maddinson and Matthew Renshaw and bowlers Sean Abbott and Brendan Doggett could expect to feature, while Peter Handscomb, the top run scorer in last summer’s Shield competition is another contender.

South Australia’s Nathan McAndrew and Queensland duo Gurinder Sandhu, fresh off breakout seasons, and spinner Matthew Kuhnemann, who shone while Mitch Swepson was with the Test squad, could also come into consideration.

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All four A matches will be played before the Test series begins, meaning fringe players will have the chance to push their case for inclusion for Australia’s first Test tour of Sri Lanka in six years.

With Glenn Maxwell an integral part of Australia’s white-ball sides, it remains to be seen whether the Victorian will have the chance to push his first-class credentials in one of the A side’s four-day games before the Test matches.

Cricket Australia’s high performance chief Ben Oliver has been eager to resume an A program that, a one-off game last summer aside, has been dormant since the onset of the pandemic in 2020 closed borders and forced CA into budget cuts.

In fact many of the country’s players on the fringes of the Test side, like Michael Neser and Mitchell Swepson, have had even fewer red-ball opportunities than normal over the past two years having continually been selected in large touring squads.

The only men’s A game since then was a four-day clash against the England Lions in December at Ian Healy Oval in suburban Brisbane.

Australia’s last A tour was to the United Kingdom in 2019, which culminated in a competitive three-day intra-squad match, played as the final element of an elaborate Ashes warm-up program.

That tour helped Matthew Wade clinch a recall to the Test side during the ensuing Ashes, while previous A tours have also been instrumental in selection for Test selection in the years that followed.

Marnus Labuschagne’s 2018 Test debut against Pakistan owed much to standout performances against India A only weeks before, while Stephen O’Keefe was the dominant spin bowler on another A trip to India in 2015 before then playing a key role in the Test team’s competitive 2017 series in that country.

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Australia’s lack of A cricket, even before the pandemic, has been identified as a potential factor in their consecutive home Test series defeats to powerhouses India, in 2018-19 and 2020-21.

The most recent of those campaigns saw an increasingly depleted Indian side unearth effective contributors in players with extensive A experience (both at home and abroad) like Mohammad Siraj, Shubman Gill and Shardul Thakur.

India A have played nearly three times as many games as Australia A over the past six years.

“When you look at the Indian team that played in the Brisbane Test (in 20-21) that had three or four fresh players, and everyone said, ‘This is India’s second XI’ – those guys had played (extensively) for India A ,” Greg Chappell, an ex-Test captain and former CA national talent manager, told last year.

“And in all sorts of different conditions, not just in India.

Qantas Tour of Sri Lanka, 2022

June 7: First T20, Colombo

June 8: Second T20, Colombo

June 11: Third T20, Kandy

June 14: First ODI, Kandy

June 16: Second ODI, Kandy

June 19: Third ODI, Colombo

June 21: Fourth ODI, Colombo

June 24: Fifth ODI, Colombo

June 29 – July 3: First Test, Galle

July 8-12: Second Test, Galle

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