SYDNEY: Head coach Justin Langer said his Australia squad are super-fit and ready to hit the ground running as they departed on Sunday for their white-ball tour of England, their first cricket activity since March.
The 21-man squad gathered in Perth before taking a direct flight after which they will face several days of isolation in Derby due to novel coronavirus (Covid-19) restrictions.
Training will be permitted during their lockdown and they will play four inter-squad warm-up games to get match-ready after nearly six months of inaction since the pandemic brought sport to a halt.
They will head to a bio-secure hub in Southampton for the first of three Twenty20 Internationals on Sept 4 against an England side who have been back in action since early July.
Three One-day Internationals against the 50-over world champions follow at Old Trafford in Manchester.
Australia are taking a larger-than-normal squad, partly because they will not be able to call up anyone into the touring party under the bio-security protocols, but also to ensure they have enough players to field two teams in warm-up games.
“The reason we’re taking 21 is so we can play some good practice games over there,” said Langer told reporters at Sydney airport en route to Perth from where the squad left for England. “The guys have done plenty of technical work, they’re all super-fit so when we arrive in England, we get straight into match practice.
“That’s what we’ve asked the boys to be ready for, that they can start playing games and, hopefully, because we’ve got 21 very good players coming with us, we can have some really high intensity practice games.”
Skipper Aaron Finch, who will open alongside David Warner, with Steve Smith batting at three followed by Marnus Labuschagne, said close attention will be paid to mental health inside the bio-secure bubble, with a sports psychologist travelling with the team.
“That’s going to be something that’s going to be a real issue, it’s going to be something to monitor heavily,” he said, with players not allowed out even to go for a meal.
Finch skippers a squad that includes three uncapped players in Daniel Sams, Riley Meredith and Josh Philippe, with an eye on the T20 World Cup next year in India then on home soil in 2022, ahead of the 50-over showpiece a year later in India.
Langer said it would be an invaluable experience, even if none of them get a game against England.
“We’ll still be picking our best eleven, that’s how it’s always worked well in the Australian team,” he said. “And for some of the younger guys, if they force their way in through performance in the practice games, that would be great.
“Otherwise it will just be nice to have them around and give them a feel of what it’s like to be inducted into the Australian cricket team.” Australia were crushed 5-0 in a 50-over series on their white-ball tour in 2018, when Langer endured a torrid first trip in charge after taking over from Darren Lehmann in the wake of the Smith and Warner ball-tampering scandal.
Langer admitted it was not an easy time. “I didn’t know any of the players, the players didn’t know me. We’d come through a great crisis which had rattled everyone on that occasion.
“We took on the best one-day team in the world at the time so it was a bit like David and Goliath and it was hard, it was really hard.
“But we’ve got two world-class players back in Steve Smith and David Warner, we’ve got our fast bowlers back. We’ve come a long way, haven’t we?”
Smith, meanwhile, said he’ll miss being jeered and heckled by English crowds, admitting the booing motivates him to do better.
The master Australian batsman bore the brunt of the hostile English fans on their trip there last year after returning from the ball-tampering ban.
But he thrived on the taunts and potshots, scoring an incredible 774 runs in four Tests, at an average 110.57, including twin centuries on his Test return at Edgbaston.
“I do like batting there, unfortunately there’s going to be no crowd there to egg me on and give me a bit more motivation,” he said. “Still, there’s going to be plenty of eyes on the TV and it is going to be great to be back out there playing.
“I’m looking forward to getting back into it, obviously it’s going to be a bit different than what we’re used to being in a bubble and playing with no crowds,” Smith said.
“That presents a challenge in itself, but one we’re looking forward to.
“We’re lucky to be able to go and play, we’ll just do what we need to and play it day by day, stick together as a bunch and help each other out,” added the former captain.
Squad: Aaron Finch (captain), Pat Cummins (vice-captain), Sean Abbott, Ashton Agar, Alex Carey, Josh Hazlewood, Marnus Labuschagne, Nathan Lyon, Mitchell Marsh, Glenn Maxwell, Riley Meredith, Josh Philippe, Daniel Sams, Kane Richardson, Steve Smith, Mitchell Starc, Marcus Stoinis, Andrew Tye, Matthew Wade, David Warner, Adam Zampa.