JAMES PATTINSON must prepare for his international return by playing club cricket next weekend because Cricket Australia says a return through the Big Bash League would compromise its integrity.
Pattinson, 22, has exceeded all expectations for his recovery from a rib injury suffered in the Adelaide Test and is back bowling three times weekly, albeit limited to about six overs per session.
CA's prediction that the fast bowler Pattinson would be unable to resume until after the BBL prompted his team, Melbourne Stars, to replace him with South Australia's Daniel Worrall, although they have since admitted they would have left him on their list had they known he was a chance to be fit for the tail end of the tournament.
Under present BBL rules once a player is replaced they are no longer eligible, irrespective of fitness. The Stars have officially requested CA relax this rule on the basis Pattinson is a key national-team player whose preparation for the looming ODI series could be enhanced by representing the finals-bound Stars.
While CA is yet to officially respond to the request - a verdict is expected on Thursday - its executive general manager of operations, Mike McKenna, told Fairfax Media he was not envisaging special dispensation for Pattinson.
''There's no provision for a rule change and no Cricket Australia board meeting scheduled so I don't think it's going to come up,'' McKenna said.
''It would've been great for James to be playing but we've got rules that have been put in place and all the teams have lived with those rules. James was not the only player ruled out and he's not the only player ready to go again. While he's an Australian player we've got to look at the integrity of the competition rules. I don't see them changing.
''We've got to be fair on the other teams. Some teams have carried injured players. The [Adelaide] Strikers have carried Andrew McDonald through the season hoping he'll be fit again. Others have replaced players with guys who probably aren't of the same standard but felt it was best to do that. The Stars have made their decision and may well have to live with it.''
McKenna said CA would consider list-management changes as part of a comprehensive post-season review but maintained ''right now we're not willing to change it mid-season''.
''If the competition's got credibility you've got to make sure that your rules [reflect] that. It's not 'Is this rule right or wrong?' It's 'Is it right to change it mid-stream?'.''
Pattinson last week told a Boxing Day Test breakfast he was hopeful ''Cricket Australia lift the rule … and I can get back via the Big Bash''.
Should CA maintain its stance against Pattinson representing the Stars, whose squad could be depleted by the start of the ODI series that overlaps the BBL finals, the right-armer's comeback appearance would be for Dandenong on January 12, at home to St Kilda in Victorian Premier Cricket. All three BBL finals will be held in the week following that match.
Playing club cricket may not be ideal for Pattinson's return to Australia's ODI squad but it could aid his preparation for next month's Test tour of India.