No Siddle In The Middle. Test Line-up Still A Riddle

25/10/2015 6:42 AM AEDT | Updated 15/07/2016 12:50 PM AEST
Matt King - CA via Getty Images
SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - OCTOBER 16: Peter Siddle of the Bushrangers looks on from the bench during the Matador BBQs One Day Cup match between Victoria and South Australia at Bankstown Oval on October 16, 2015 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Matt King - CA/Cricket Australia/Getty Images)

The next chapter in Australian cricket is about to begin. The traditional first test in Brisbane is just two weeks away and there are still several spots up for grabs in the Australian team. Our opposition at the Gabba, and for two more tests after that, is New Zealand, who arrived on our shores this week.

The Black Caps squad will play the obligatory warm-up games against the Prime Minister's XI and Cricket Australia's XI in preparation for that first Test, with their last Test match being a win against England at Leeds way back in May.

Many of the players who were in their World Cup squad are returning for the Test series and it looks to be a strong line-up. New Zealand managed to steal a win against us the last time they played a Test here, at Bellerive Oval in 2011, but haven't won a series in Australia since 1985.

The usually vast gap between the two sides has been cut significantly in recent years, and the Kiwis will represent a tough challenge for Australia with their talented pace attack and world-class middle-order batsmen.

There is plenty of uncertainty around Australia's team, still reeling from that fourth consecutive away Ashes defeat. The aftermath of the series was that Michael Clarke, Brad Haddin, Shane Watson and Chris Rogers all retired from Test cricket, leaving us 265 games of experience lighter.

The transition would have been made much easier if September's tour of Bangladesh had gone ahead, but security concerns meant the two Test matches were cancelled. The competitive Bangladesh team, coupled with difficult foreign conditions, was going to be a great opportunity for inexperienced batsmen Cameron Bancroft, Usman Khawaja and Joe Burns, and would have at least defined who deserves to play at the Gabba.

With those two Tests cancelled, the Aussies have been playing for their respective state teams in the Matador Cup, facing the white ball instead of the red (or pink). The late inclusion of the players who were supposed to go to Bangladesh has been great for the tournament's sponsors and has probably helped Channel Nine promote their coverage of it, but for the development of our elite cricketers I don't think it's been as good as it could be.

Peter Siddle can't get a game for Victoria in the Matador Cup, so isn't able to have any sort of form-line going into the first Test, despite taking 6/43 in the last Test match we played. It puts him at a disadvantage that wouldn't exist if the summer was scheduled differently.

The addition of a Cricket Australia XI to the competition was certainly positive for our up-and-coming players, but the state schedule should fit in around the international schedule. Why have the summer's entire allotment of state one-dayers as a lead-up to the Test series, and when the next One-Day International involving Australia isn't until after all six Tests? It leaves too many questions unanswered about the Australian test team.

The three-match series against New Zealand will be used to stabilise the team, giving the Kiwis a genuine chance to beat us on our own soil. The first-ever day-night Test at the Adelaide Oval might well be the series decider, making the historic occasion a final of sorts.

Australia should be settled by the time the West Indies arrive for their three Tests, which should be a much easier set of matches and could present another chance to blood new players.

The Sheffield Shield will roll on throughout the summer and the Big Bash will come and go in no time. India pays us a visit for five one-dayers and three T20s in January, before the Aussies follow New Zealand across the Tasman for a jam-packed February involving matches in all three forms of the game.

The next chapter is about to start. Bring it on.

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