The best-laid pre-tour plans…

No, I am not in Adelaide (yet) but I will be covering the tour down under and, to answer the many questions I have received on the subject, I will, naturally, be writing my usual, daily tour diary.

In the meantime, until I land in Perth for the build-up to the first test, I will be keeping a close eye and ear on proceedings as the squad plays a couple of two-day games in Adelaide and Melbourne. There are a number of similarities in the planning and preparation for this tour and the two which preceded it, which is hardly a surprise given that they both resulted in famous victories.

The most obvious one is the length of time the squad will be in the country before the first test. Back in 2008 coach Mickey Arthur and captain Graeme Smith were convinced that a leisurely and relaxed 10-day camp in Perth was the best way to get bodies and minds ready. The sundowner cruise on the Swan River and a bike ride to Fremantle were just two of the highlights of the preparation period which, memorably, culminated in the record 414 run chase of the last day of the test.

Specific plans have also been made for the roles of individual players and team strategies for each of the three test matches. It is hardly a secret that Morne Morkel is scheduled to join Dale Steyn, Kagiso Rabada and Vernon Philander in an all-pace attack at the WACA while research has shown that spinners have thrived in recent seasons at Hobart’s Bellerive Oval – but only in the second innings.

Carrying Tabraiz Shamsi as a ‘passenger’ for the first half of the test might be a burden too far but Keshav Maharaj, who contributes significantly with the bat, could well be handed a debut if the pitch shows any signs of dryness at the start of the match or if the forecast is five days of sunshine. Besides, it would allow the mystery to grow around Shamsi.

While the majority of talk around the day-night test is of how much more the pink ball swings, and for longer, one rather important piece of information appears not to have reached the public domain. The most recent rounds of India’s Ranji Trophy first-class competition have been played under lights with the pink ball and feedback from those players has been instructive. Although the ball did swing more (even in India) the more pronounced problem for the batsmen was reading the spinners – especially, according to Yuvraj Singh – wrist spinners.

So while Steyn and Philander will be pitted against Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazlewood as potential match winners, it might well be Shamsi who sneaks past them on the blindside to make the difference. Of course, every single pre-tour plan could change with form, confidence, injuries and conditions all having an effect. But it’s far better to start with a plan and adapt it than starting with none at all.

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