With the Test series' this summer being back to back it is the perfect situation to see how the initial squad plays against the West Indies and then minor adjustments can be made when the Test matches against Pakistan are played.
It is actually the perfect setting to make sure the NSP gets their player meters out to see what will be the core squad.
We have recently seen this achieved with the ODI squad. A year ago things were messy with the One Day cricket, owed heavily to the departure of Matthew Hayden and Adam Gilchrist and with players like Brad Hogg retiring and Andrew Symonds going his own way.
But with a ODI series win in England, a victory in the Champions Trophy in South Africa and now a consecutive series win in India the whole picture is looking clearer and when the full squad is possible for analysis it will make the NSP's job easier as well as also making all of us alot more confident in knowing who our core team is. The recent performances have determined alot, even with the full strength team not playing a role in the recent series win.
Philip Hughes has been strongly backed in the news by Allan Border and Dean Jones to make a return, while Andrew Hilditch has stated Philip is a long-term player and not out of mind. A few good Sheffield performances for Philip and he may be back in the side, I would be happy about this.
There's also Phil Jaques who didn't do an aweful lot wrong and played very well for us at the top of the order. While he is hitting the 30 mark, Simon Katich is probably in the sunset stage of his career so another opportunity will open (although he has been batting like a run machine since he came into the side again)...but what other openers will be strongly contending by then?
Shane Watson slotted in well to open, but I personally don't see him as a specialist Test opener. In ODI cricket I'd be hesitant to not have him in the top 4, atleats opening even when Brad Haddin returns, although Hads wasn't too effective down the order either!
In Test cricket I think if his bowling is needed he will take over the role that Andrew MacDonald or even Marcus North has been playing. The risk is that Marcus is a useful part-time spinner and his batting has been outstanding for us, so to not include him would be a bold move.
Then there's Michael Hussey who could fall somewhere into the above paragraph.
Before the ODI series in India, Huss had been continuing his solid form in One Day cricket, but after an unfortunate Ashes series backed with a low scoring Test record over a period of time, the NSP had some big questions to try answer regarding Huss' future. Huss' response was to just get on with his cricket and as a result of this sign of mental toughness, he batted like a champ in the Indian series.
It may be One Day cricket but it is often the thing that just pushes guys to the confidence level needed to make the return to Test cricket. Huss should play against the Windies, and with the opportunity for the selectors to make adjustments if needed they can then look at Huss' position. I think we need the experience there for now.
There's also a contender like Brad Hodge who has been sensational for Victoria in both Sheffield and Ford Ranger cricket, but we all the know the Hodge story as a Baggy Green in the scrapyard. Sadly I think pushing his case is done but his last Test outing was against the Windies where he played well for us, but I can't see it happening again. That was waste of hope and a fresh contract for Hodgey.
Then the bowling! What an exciting debate it is.
The options are; Ben Hilfenhaus, Peter Siddle, Mitchell Johnson, Brett Lee, Stuart Clark and Doug Bollinger as the front line contenders.
This is the way I see it:
Ben Hilfenhaus gives the option with good pace with even carry to the keeper and if the conditions are good enough he really is a genuine swing bowler.
He was our top wicket taker in the Ashes and has been unfortunate to not have a 5 wicket haul to his name yet. He is effective with the new ball and where Mitchell Johnson struggled throughout the Ashes, Hilfy didn't back down and ended with 22 wickets in the 5 Tests. He hasn't played a Test in Australia yet, give him his chance now!
Peter Siddle has had a very long time on tour and no doubt as soon as he gets out this summer for the Tests we will see his aggressive instinct kick in again. He has become better with each series played, which is why Hilfy must also get more match time. Sid's will be looking for a few more deliveries to add to his armoury, but he has been consistently improving. It was at the MCG he made his impact, maybe a longer stretch will see more performances like that.
Mitchell Johnson has been all over the place. A sensational Test summer ended up being a poor Ashes series, and I don't think saying poor is harsh. He admitted that he tried far too hard and was caught up in the expectations, the Ashes hype and his own performances. A reason a guy like Hilfy managed to hold his cool better is probably because he blocked all these things out of mind and came in as a bit of a silent assassin. But Mitch has started to get the confidence back again and he also has valuable batting performances too to add to his chances in staying as our front line seamer.
But the guy I see to compete with him is Brett Lee. It seems unlikely Binga will play in the 1st Test. The reason for this is not only he has been hit twice now with injury while showing his value to the team, but he hasn't had enough 4 to 5 day cricket under his belt. He has done terrificly in ODI cricket but it makes sense and is fair to say he needs more match time and not have these injuries creep up on him at the start of every series. It is unfortunate to talk about such a champ of the Baggy Green so plainly, but it is just the situation and he will know it.
But once again the series against the Windies will determine alot and should any changes need to be made the opportunity is perfect to do so.
Stuart Clark would come in if Binga was deemed unfit, and he is closer in competition with Hilfy and Sid's but I think a few more Sheffield games will be needed. At the same time last time we played the Windies in the Frank Worrell trophy Binga and Stuart were our best bowlers and it was there I honestly saw some of the best bowling I have seen from Binga, and Stuart was like a metronome and bowled brilliantly.
New series though and things have changed.
Doug Bollinger has the pace and bounce as well as a left arm action, so how would he fit in? Probably the next one on the list but he will be a certain starting contender in One Day cricket for the time being.
Which ever way the NSP goes there is the chance for changes to made if needed and the squad announcement will be an exciting one too wait upon.
The best news of all is Ricky Ponting will not be going anywhere anytime soon, and while he is there he will be doing his best to make plenty runs, lead the team courageously and make sure any knowledge he can pass on will be done so. I still get a kick out of the way he has been leading this team and batting (and fielding too!) as it really has made the critics shut up really quickly and just shows how people take his cricketing skill's for granted.
It will be a sad day when Punter goes, but that's not about to happen.
It's going to be an interesting summer.