Melbourne:Australia's 15-man World Cup squad must be named by Wednesday, but after years of planning the selectors face a string of last-minute decisions. The injured Ricky Ponting is expected back in time for the tournament as he aims for his fourth win in a row, but this time he will have to do it with a team missing its usual batch of superstars. Here are some of the questions facing the selectors.
Can Brett Lee and Shaun Tait fit into the same squad?
Brett Lee and Shaun Tait are almost unchallenged as fast men when they are at full fitness. The major problem for Australia is it doesn't happen very often, setting up a risk-or-reward gamble. If they are on-song at 150kph, they will terrorise batsmen in most games and be expensive in others, but wickets are virtually guaranteed. If Australia take only one of the pair the other could be on standby as a like-for-like replacement in case of breakdown. Lee, 34, is now the front-runner after impressing at the MCG on Sunday after Tait pulled out with a back strain.
Neither plays first-class cricket any longer, so this tournament is their international peak - and also a warm-up for the IPL. Lee's return from injury - he had elbow surgery at the start of last year - could provide the side with a link to its all-conquering past, and help him overcome the disappointment of missing the 2007 event with damaged ankle ligaments. His international career started just after the 1999 triumph and he was the second-leading wicket-taker in South Africa four years later.
How many spinners do Australia need?
Australia have always had slow-bowling problems when heading to the subcontinent, even when Shane Warne was around. How many do they need this time, and will any of those selected be able to make any impact? The offspinner Nathan Hauritz didn't play in the opening ODI but is with the squad for the current one-day series against England and has been promised some games. That wouldn't have occurred if he hadn't been marked for a part at the World Cup.
Xavier Doherty, the left-arm orthodox from Tasmania, was on trial at the MCG in his third ODI and went wicket-less. Steven Smith has a big future and his legbreaks will be required over the next couple of months, but he is not yet good enough to be a specialist with either bat or ball. And then there are the real part-timers. David Hussey, who must make a mark as a batsman first, collected two victims with his offspin in Melbourne when he was preferred in the early stages to Doherty; Michael Clarke can dart in some handy left-armers when his back allows; and at some point Cameron White might be asked if he still remembers how to roll his arm over. Even the selectors and coaching staff really don't know the best combination in this key department.
Are Ricky Ponting and Michael Clarke worth their leadership roles?
Of course they are. Both Ponting and Clarke have had poor Test summers but they will be crucial ingredients if Australia are to have a successful campaign. Ponting is out with a broken little finger but expects to be back to lead the team in a tournament in which he has never lost a game as captain. He has been a part of the past three previous world-beating outfits and brings authority and aggression, even if his best days are behind him. However, whatever happens, he should seriously consider stepping down at the end of the competition and let the next generation emerge. Clarke is a vital piece in the middle order and is desperate to find some form and fluency to return to the top of his game after a rare, extended slump.
Does Brad Haddin need an understudy?
Tim Paine was appointed Australia's vice-captain for the T20s against England and Brad Haddin was dropped. Paine, 26, is being groomed for future leadership roles while Haddin was Clarke's deputy for the SCG Test. It's a strange time for Australia's incumbent wicketkeeper, who usually gets to choose his engagements. Haddin, 33, is the more attacking batsman and will start at the top of the order, but his glovework is less assured. He was sloppy in the opening ODI, with three missed stumpings, and may struggle over two months in challenging conditions. There is no way he will be around for the next World Cup, so it would be sensible to send Paine for the experience, and to give Haddin a rest against Canada and Kenya.
Who is going to miss out?
David Hussey and Tait sit right on the edge of selection, while a host of other players in the 30-man preliminary outfit are now no chance of making this week's unit. It always seems crazy that Brad Hodge misses out despite his regular domestic heroics, while Ryan Harris, Mitchell Starc and James Pattinson have been injured. Dan Christian, John Hastings and Callum Ferguson, who broke his nose when he missed a short ball last week, should come into consideration if there are any injuries to the preferred 15.
Possible squad Shane Watson, Brad Haddin (wk), Ricky Ponting (capt), Michael Clarke, Cameron White, Michael Hussey, Steven Smith, Tim Paine (wk), Mitchell Johnson, Nathan Hauritz, Brett Lee, Xavier Doherty, Peter Siddle, Shaun Tait, Doug Bollinger.