Australia will on Monday name a 15-man squad for next month’s tour of South Africa.
Tasmania’s Alex Doolan is expected to challenge for a Test debut and state teammate Jackson Bird is tipped to return to the national set-up after injury.
A 5-0 Ashes win coupled with the ethos of coach Darren Lehmann has delivered needed stability and Australia, riding high after dominating England, will leave with high hopes of seriously challenging the world No.1 Test nation in their backyard.
Doolan is poised to get the nod for the three-Test series against the Proteas and he could well replace No.6 George Bailey, after a modest first Test summer.
James Faulkner, the 12th man for all five Tests and the hero of Australia’s incredible run chase in Brisbane on Friday night, could also figure in calculations for a place in the middle order with his seat on the flight to Johannesburg guaranteed.
Australia’s squad, which will not include a reserve wicketkeeper for Brad Haddin, is to be completed by a cabal of fast bowlers; Mitchell Johnson, Ryan Harris and Peter Siddle are expected to be backed up by Bird and another quick on the comeback trail from a stress fracture of the back, James Pattinson.
Nathan Coulter-Nile, who, like Pattinson, has been involved in Australia’s one-day series against England and was called in as a standby player during the Ashes, also figured in selection talks.
Cricket Australia has been busy trying to ensure players not involved in the five-match ODI campaign are prepared for South Africa by having them play for state second-XI teams in a round of Futures League matches to start next Monday. With the Sheffield Shield suspended because of the Big Bash League, CA has been forced to look to the second-tier competition for red-ball practice, a process made more complicated by the fact that Tasmania and Victoria do not have matches scheduled in the round this month.
As a result, four players – Chris Rogers, Siddle, Bird and Doolan – are set to be placed with other states.
NSW play South Australia at Blacktown, a game that will include Steve Smith and Nathan Lyon, and Queensland take on Western Australia at Allan Border Field in Brisbane, where Harris is to play some part. Rogers has already said he would be making a cameo for the Redbacks’ seconds.
Haddin, meanwhile, is expected to be rested from the final two matches of the one-day series after a busy summer. Pending any fitness issues, the only selection dilemmas likely to arise before the series against South Africa are in the top half of the batting order.
The first Test is at Centurion from February 12.
Likely Australia squad for tour of South Africa: David Warner, Chris Rogers, Shane Watson, Michael Clarke (c), Steve Smith, George Bailey, Alex Doolan, Brad Haddin (vc), Mitchell Johnson, Ryan Harris, Peter Siddle, Nathan Lyon, James Faulkner, Jackson Bird, James Pattinson/Nathan Coulter-Nile.