Test lifeline for Bailey

THE format that delivered George Bailey the chance to earn his baggy green is now throwing the batsman a Test lifeline, but a tight schedule means he is no sure thing to take on South Africa even if selected for the tour.

Bailey broke into Australia's Ashes side on the back of his excellent form in the one-day arena, but after an unconvincing debut series the Tasmanian would dearly love the return to coloured garb to coincide with another torrent of runs if he is to see a sixth Test.

With national selectors tipped to finalise their touring party in the next fortnight,  possibly as early as next week, Sunday's opening one-day international against England in Melbourne could be the final opportunity for the 31-year-old to press his claims to tour South Africa, should the selectors make their call sooner rather than later.

But even if Bailey secures a seat on the plane Cricket Australia's cramped international schedule could leave him a sitting duck for a challenger, such as state teammate Alex Doolan, to pip him at the post for the first Test at Centurion.

As captain of the national Twenty20 team, Bailey will be required for the three-game series against England, which finishes on February 2, just three days before the start of a four-day Test warm-up game against a South African Invitation XI in Potchefstroom. Unless Bailey is released from the Twenty20 side, which seems unlikely given there is a Twenty20 World Cup starting in March, it would be far from ideal for him to play in the tour game due to the length of travel and jet lag.

David Warner, Shane Watson, Mitchell Johnson and Brad Haddin, who are first-choice players in both Australia's Test and Twenty20 teams, are likely to be in a similar boat.

Juggling Australia's Test ambitions against the top-ranked South Africa with its goals of winning a maiden Twenty20 world title immediately after will be an issue for CA's team performance department, which has been focused on the Ashes all summer, and selectors as they plan for the short-term future.

CA has already confirmed a group of players will fly to South Africa after the end of the ODI series on January 26.

It is possible CA may also send over some development players, as it did with Ashton Agar in India last year, so it can field a full team for the tour game without diluting the Twenty20 side.

The jury remains out on Bailey as a Test player after a series that yielded a moderate 183 runs at 26.

Although Bailey, ranked No. 4 in the world as an ODI batsman, showed he could attack when quick runs were required in the second innings, he made only one significant contribution - a half-century in Adelaide.

The desire to keep a winning team together will play in Bailey's favour, although coach Darren Lehmann has identified Australia's top-order batting in the first innings of games as a weakness that needs to be rectified.

In four of the five Tests, Australia was five wickets down without reaching 150. ``Again we were 5-97 [in Sydney],'' Lehmann said. 

``We come up against South Africa away from home and we have to certainly improve our first-innings batting.

``If you want to be the side we want to be we have to win away from home. 

``Simple as that.

``We need to improve and raise the bar.''

Tasmanian George Bailey signs autographs for fans during Ashes victory celebrations for the Australian team at the Sydney Opera House.  Picture: FAIRFAX MEDIA

Tasmanian George Bailey signs autographs for fans during Ashes victory celebrations for the Australian team at the Sydney Opera House. Picture: FAIRFAX MEDIA


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