Australia A Tour of England - Men's
Preview: Lions clash brings taste of Ashes intensity
Australia's Ashes preparation will ramp up when Tim Paine's side takes on the England Lions in Canterbury
Sam Ferris in Canterbury
14 July 2019, 10:47 AM AEST
Test captain Tim Paine will wait until the toss to reveal Australia's XI for the clash against England Lions in Canterbury in what is set to be the sternest test his troops have faced on tour.
Complicating the final decision on the XI has been the somewhat conflicting goals of the campaign – to win every match and give those in Ashes contention opportunity to push their case for selection.
Paine confirmed star pacemen Josh Hazlewood and James Pattinson will be rested to be fresh for the intra-squad match in Southampton and the Ashes, with Chris Tremain, Jackson Bird, Michael Neser and Jon Holland to make up the bowling attack.
It's the batting unit where the biggest conundrum lies.
The returns of Matt Wade, Peter Handscomb and Mitch Marsh from the World Cup squad means there is set to be a reshuffle of the batting order, with allrounder Marsh almost certain to play as the pivotal fifth bowling option.
Whether Wade or Handscomb come into the top five will be unveiled Sunday morning (England time), but it would be hard to deny the Tasmanian an opportunity given his blistering form on tour to date and his prolific domestic summer where he scored 1021 runs at 60 in the Sheffield Shield competition.
Handscomb has featured heavily in Australia's limited-overs teams in 2019, and while he narrowly missed selection for the World Cup squad, he was drafted into the XI for the semi-final against England.
Openers Joe Burns and Marcus Harris had a hit in the nets at the Spitfire Ground on Saturday, the pair who scored a century each in Australia A's opening four-day match against Sussex and combined for a match-winning 214-run first-wicket stand.
With players in good form and not enough spots to play them all, Paine says it's been one of the harder XIs to settle on.
"We’ve got a really strong squad here so it's not the easiest team to pick," Paine told cricket.com.au on Saturday.
"We want to pick the best possible side we can all the time. Obviously, Josh (Hazlewood) and James (Pattinson) will miss due to workload and big few months coming up for them, but it also gives Chris Tremain, Jackson Bird and Michael Neser another opportunity to impress.
"It's a balancing act between getting your best team out and making sure all the guys here on the A tour that are in contention for the Ashes squad get an opportunity at some stage."
Paine's squad faces a Lions side jam-packed with players near the peak of their powers who, like their rivals, features Test aspirants pressing for an Ashes berth.
"I think there's been a few guys that are looking to put their hands up for Ashes selection," Lions captain Lewis Gregory told cricket.com.au on match eve.
"The England team is reasonably settled but there's definitely a few spots up for grabs and if there are a few injuries there are guys hoping to put in performances to put their names forward if that happens.
"The guys have probably got one eye on it, but we'll see how it goes."
Having rarely been pushed on tour against under-strength county opponents on tour, Paine is confident his team can continue their winning ways but is expecting a step up in intensity between two quality sides.
"We know we're a good side and the Lions will certainly be the strongest side we've played against," Paine said.
"I know this is a game everyone has been looking forward to.
"No disrespect to the county sides we've played against but they haven't been able to put their strongest teams out either in the middle of their season.
"This will be our first real test. It's an Australia versus England game of cricket so there's going to be plenty at stake."
Following the victory over Sussex, Paine said he would use this opportunity against the Lions to strike a pre-Ashes blow on an England side and put some doubts in the minds of the players who could represent the hosts in the Test series.
The Lions camp is of similar thinking.
Under coach Andy Flower, who guided England to three Ashes series wins including the drought-breaking victory in 2010-11 – England's first series win in Australia in 24 years, the Lions will be aiming to draw first blood.
"He (Flower) seems very excited to be involved against an Aussie team," Gregory said.
"We spoke at the start of the day about getting one over the Aussies.
"Whether that will have an effect on the Ashes or not we're just going out there trying to win.
"In Andy's mind there's no doubt that's going to happen.
"It's Australia-England. Whether it's Lions or an A game it's going to be that competitiveness.
"We’re going into this game wanting to win I'm sure as much as Australia are."
The opening day of the four-day, first-class fixture starts at 11am local time, 8pm AEST. Follow live scores on cricket.com.au and the Cricket Australia Live app.
Australia A tour of the UK
Get live scores and all the latest news from Australia A's tour of the UK on cricket.com.au and the CA Live app
Australia A one-day squad: Travis Head (c), Matthew Wade, Will Pucovski, Peter Handscomb, Mitch Marsh (vc), D'Arcy Short, Kurtis Patterson, Ashton Agar, Michael Neser, James Pattinson, Josh Hazlewood (vc), Sean Abbott, Andrew Tye
Australia A four-day squad: Tim Paine (c), Marcus Harris, Kurtis Patterson, Will Pucovski, Travis Head (vc), Peter Handscomb, Matthew Wade, Mitch Marsh, Michael Neser, Jon Holland, James Pattinson, Jackson Bird, Josh Hazlewood (vc), Chris Tremain
July 13-16: Australian XI v England Lions, Canterbury
July 23-26: Australia v Australia A, Hampshire