Hampshire have been given a huge boost after Cricket Australia confirmed that George Bailey will be available for the forthcoming season.
Bailey is Hampshire’s main overseas player for the upcoming campaign but was subject to speculation regarding his availability because of a potential call up for a tour of India and the Ashes in the wake of Ricky Ponting and Michael Hussey’s retirements from the international scene.
Bailey has been skippering the Aussie one-day side that yesterday salvaged a series draw against Sri Lanka thanks in part to ex-Hants man Phil Hughes’ century.
However, both Cricket Australia general manager Pat Howard and national selector Andy Bichel confirmed Bailey is free to join up with his new teammates prior to the start of the campaign in April, and be with them until early August when he departs ahead of the England v Australia one day series.
Bichel said: “George Bailey batted beautifully in the first ODI against Sri Lanka at the MCG when he scored 89 standing in as skipper for Michael Clarke.
“Since then he hasn’t scored any runs.
“We respect his ability with the bat and his leadership qualities but he’s one of a number of senior batsmen who haven’t scored enough runs lately.
“Hampshire don’t have to look for other options to replace George.
“He can play county cricket.
“He’s not currently top of the list for a Test debut and ditto David Hussey.”
Howard added: “There is a system in place for Australian cricketers to be selected for the Test, ODI, or Twenty20 sides, if they are playing county cricket in England.
“That system could apply to George but he’s free to play county cricket for Hampshire.
“He’s one of several Australian players who are involved with county teams this summer in England.
“At this stage he hasn’t scored enough runs to earn a Test debut and there are other players ahead of him [for India & The Ashes].”
Steve Smith is Australia's shock batting contender for next month's Test tour of India, in a sobering reality check for the country's under-performing Test batting hopefuls.
The uncontracted and much-maligned 23-year-old legspinning allrounder from NSW is the frontrunner to win a spot as a reserve batsman for India with the Australian squad for the four-Test series to be announced next week.
Smith's legspin could also be handy on the subcontinent but the fact he is being considered primarily as a reserve batsman is a clear signal the country's batsmen must lift their game.
Smith's Sheffield Shield run haul this season - 224 runs at 32 - is nothing to write home about.
But it has been a season where few state batsmen have shone and 35-year-old Test wicketkeeping discard Brad Haddin is the only batsman to have scored multiple Shield centuries.
Smith became one of the richest rookies in Australian sport when he snared a lucrative Cricket Australia deal in 2010-11, believed to be worth about $1 million.
But he was widely panned for getting a golden run into the national side and failing to bridge the gap between potential and performance, losing his national contract and dropping to a State wage of $150,000.
From his five Tests, Smith averages 28.77 with the bat and 73.33 with the ball.
But the barren nature of Australia's batting stocks have seen Smith come back into Test contention, especially after the retirement of Test veteran Mike Hussey and with selectors keen on players who have skills with both bat and ball.
Smith's selection for India is not over the line just yet - there are two Shield games starting where other batting candidates can make a last-minute case - but he is currently the favourite to win the reserve batting spot.
Queensland batsman Usman Khawaja is expected to get first crack at Hussey's vacant Test spot but Smith will be waiting in the wings, especially if conditions in India call for players with several strings to their bow.