A dizzying jumble of format switches and a domestic schedule that has prioritised T20 cricket at the height of the summer when Test matches are also played has added to the challenge of rebuilding the Australia Test team, according to the national selector Trevor Hohns.
Having served in two separate stints as a selector and chairman from 1993 to 2006 and then from 2014 to the present day, Hohns' description of the schedule for 2018-19 as "unprecedented" should provide a warning to Cricket Australia and also the Australian Cricketers' Association about the demands placed on players in the season following the Newlands scandal. Ironically it was the first schedule the ACA had additional oversight for following the establishment of a standing committee on scheduling after the 2017 MoU negotiation.
Hohns lamented the lack of red-ball cricket and the broader demands of shifting international formats multiple times during the season. The structure of the season was a topic addressed during the Sydney Test by Cricket Australia CEO Kevin Roberts and ACA president Greg Dyer with a seeming acceptance that something needs to be done to reestablish the standing of the Sheffield Shield.
"It's probably not appropriate but the programme has been the programme for some time and we can't do much about that at the moment," Hohns said. "The Big Bash is on, it's a very, very good product for Cricket Australia, and it's just unfortunate that there isn't any red-ball cricket. How we rectify that, that's in the hands of Cricket Australia.
"It's also been a challenge because of the program. We've been from Test cricket to T20 cricket to one-day cricket to Test cricket and we're going to one-day cricket again now, so that's been a bit of a challenge in itself, keeping up with everybody and trying to keep our key players fresh if that's at all possible. It's been an unprecedented period I must say."
After Hohns' panel cut a swathe through Australia's top order, dropping three batsmen and an allrounder from the squad assembled for the final Test against India in Sydney in a new-look line-up to face Sri Lanka, he admitted the last nine months had been the most challenging of his time in the role amid the fallout from the ball-tampering scandal.
That removed Steven Smith, David Warner and Cameron Bancroft from international contention for this season and has laid bare the lack of depth in Australian domestic cricket as replacements have fallen short of the mark.
In an attempt to help make judgments on the final XI for the day/night Test against Sri Lanka at the Gabba, the selectors have effectively named the first Australia A team in a home season since the 2013-14 Ashes series - although it remains branded a Cricket Australia XI - rather than pick a side full of fringe state players as has become the norm. The recalled pair of Joe Burns and Matt Renshaw will play alongside the uncapped Will Pucovski and the three are battling for two places in the Test side.
"We've included some of our new inclusions in the Test squad so that they at least get some red-ball cricket," Hohns said. "Nobody has had the chance to play any red-ball cricket, we can't do anything about that, and we are seriously using this game for those purposes. We're also very mindful of the Big Bash that is going on and not disrupting the franchises too much by taking away too many of their players. Currently we've had no pullback from the Big Bash franchises and I thank them for their co-operation."
Hohns admitted that the poor performances in Melbourne and Sydney had forced the considerable changes in the batting line-up, but would not concede if any mistakes had been made along the way this season.
"That's always a discussion point, there's no doubt about it. Whether we got it right or wrong that's up to you people to judge us on. We always review what we do and we always consider maybe we could have done that, maybe we could have done something a little bit better. At the time when we chose the side we were convinced they were the best players to represent Australia at that time."
He also addressed the ongoing situation of communication between the selectors and players following the recent gripes of Nathan Coulter-Nile and Ashton Agar following their omission from the one-day squad. Hohns said that any player dropped from a squad is given an explanation - in person if logistics allows otherwise over the phone - and appeared to put the onus back on the players and the states to seek more information.
"If there's any further clarity required, we encourage them to call me back or ask for another meeting so we can go through it again," Hohns said. "We also encourage all the state coaches to encourage their players to give me a call if they want some feedback. Give the coach a call if they want some feedback.
"So there's an open line of communication. It's their careers, so if they're unclear about anything we'd like to think they can get some clarity if they want and take some ownership of their careers. People are always told why they've been left out so there can be no misunderstanding whatsoever. Sometimes obviously players are disappointed. There's no doubt about that. Sometimes they may understand, [or] they may not."