With a priceless first Test win secured, men’s team coach Justin Langer will briefly step off the Ashes tour bus but won’t be vacating the driver’s seat.
In the wake of Australia’s emphatic 251-run win in the series opener at Edgbaston on Monday, Langer is one of a handful of squad members to take a few days recreational leave before the group assembles in London ahead of the second Test.
The others not required to report for duty at Worcester, where a three-day tour game will begin on Wednesday, are Langer’s fellow World Cup combatants Steve Smith, David Warner, Pat Cummins and Nathan Lyon.
The workload that group has shouldered since Australia’s ODI squad landed in the UK in mid-May, and then rolled directly into the first weeks of the two-month Ashes campaign is dauntingly hectic even among the overcrowded modern-day global cricket schedule.
Fast bowler Mitchell Starc and batter Usman Khawaja were also part of Australia’s unsuccessful World Cup tilt, but Starc sat out the first Test while Khawaja missed the final stages of the ODI tournament as well as the sole Ashes warm-up game due to a hamstring injury.
But while Langer leaves the 13 remaining players under the stewardship of assistant coaches Graeme Hick and Troy Cooley for the match against Worcestershire, he’ll be keeping half an eye on events as they unfold at the county’s New Road ground.
And he’ll be mulling over some happy selection dilemmas he will face, along with panel members Trevor Hohns and Greg Chappell, when the trio hook-up to discuss the starting line-up for the next Test at Lord’s that begins August 14.
“I won’t have my phone off, that’s impossible,” Langer said when asked if he was disappearing completely off-grid during his mini-break.
“There’s work to be done.
“What we have to keep respecting is it’s a five-Test series, and we’re here to win the Ashes, not to win the first Test at Edgbaston.
“I said it through the World Cup (to the squad members outside the starting XI) ‘stay ready, you never know when the opportunity could come up, you never know how the balance of the team might work’.
“Every time they get a chance to play it’s good for them to get some confidence in their game but it’s also good for them to push their case.”
The strongest push is expected to come from fast bowlers Starc and Josh Hazlewood, who in recent years shared the new ball in Test cricket but were both overlooked when selectors favoured James Pattinson and Peter Siddle for the series opener.
It is expected that neither Pattinson (who bowled 35 overs at Edgbaston) or Siddle (39) will take the field at Worcester for any reason than to run drinks, so the former pace spearheads will have a chance to present their respective cases for recall.
Auxiliary seamers Michael Neser and Mitchell Marsh will fill the other specialist bowling berths in the tour game, and with Lyon on sabbatical the spin bowling duties will fall to leg-spinner and top-order batter, Marnus Labuschagne.
The Queenslander has spent much of the current English summer filling the role of front-line spinner for Welsh county side Glamorgan, and is seen as a genuine chance to return to Australia’s Test XI later in the Ashes campaign if late-summer pitch conditions suit the inclusion of a second spinner.
The match against Worcestershire also offers Test batters Khawaja, Cameron Bancroft, Travis Head, Matthew Wade as well as captain Tim Paine an opportunity to spend more time at the crease against the Dukes-brand ball that caused such issues for Australia’s top-order (Smith excepted) in the first innings at Edgbaston.
With surplus opener Marcus Harris also afforded a chance to pocket some game time, the three-day game carries a number of significant elements even if it has been shoe-horned into a minimal hiatus between the first and second Tests.
Langer has previously indicated that places within the Test XI will be decided on the basis of which individual players best suit the pitch and match conditions that prevail at each of the five Ashes venues.
And the coach reiterated that strategy would not change, regardless of the all-team performance that lifted Australia from a precarious 8-122 shortly before tea on the first day at Edgbaston to a thumping win shortly before tea on the fifth.
“What a brilliant problem to have, and one we haven’t had for a long time,” Langer said in relation to the availability of five world-class fast bowlers jockeying for three places.
“We were really nervous after the (England) first innings because Patto (Pattinson) bowled 27 overs – that’s a lot of overs, and we thought if he blows out to a 50-over game …
“For all of our guys, that starts putting some pressure on their body with the spikes (in workload) they are going to get.
“But they didn’t bowl that many overs in the second innings, which is going to give us a really good headache going into the next Test.
“We have always said – all through the World Cup and for this (Test) series – from day one that we will look at the wicket at Lord’s with the slope and the grass on it and there might be a bit of extra bounce.
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Day five wrap: Lyon, Cummins hand Aussies 1-0 Ashes lead
“Then we will pick the team that we think will win this Test match, and that’s the way we will keep going.
“I looked at Hoff’s (Hazlewood’s) record again this morning, he’s played 44 Test matches (164 wickets at 27.14 each) – incredible.
“Then I saw Starcy’s come up during the game (211 wickets at 28.20 from 51 Tests) and again I say ‘what a problem to have’.
“To have those two guys sitting on the (sidelines) …. it’s nice to have that competition, that’s for sure.”
2019 Qantas Ashes Tour of England
Australia squad: Tim Paine (c), Cameron Bancroft, Pat Cummins, Marcus Harris, Josh Hazlewood, Travis Head, Usman Khawaja, Marnus Labuschagne, Nathan Lyon, Mitchell Marsh, Michael Neser, James Pattinson, Peter Siddle, Steve Smith, Mitchell Starc, Matthew Wade, David Warner.
England squad: Joe Root (c), Moeen Ali, Jimmy Anderson, Jofra Archer, Jonny Bairstow, Stuart Broad, Rory Burns, Jos Buttler, Sam Curran, Joe Denly, Jason Roy, Ben Stokes (vc), Olly Stone, Chris Woakes.
First Test: Australia beat England by 251 runs at Edgbaston
Tour match: Australians v Worcestershire, August 7-9
Second Test: August 14-18,Lord’s
Third Test: August 22-26, Headingley
Tour match: Australians v Derbyshire, August 29-31
Fourth Test: September 4-8, Old Trafford
Fifth Test: September 12-16, The Oval