Common sense is the central theme to emerge from the naming of Australia’s Test squads to tour the West Indies and England this coming Australian winter.
In come veteran Western Australian batsman Adam Voges and Victorian leg-spinner Fawad Ahmed on the back of 1,358-run and 48-wicket Sheffield Shield seasons, respectively.
Their selections, like that of Chris Rogers before them, show that lessons out of the Argus review period have been heeded. Consistency, reliability and weight of numbers, old-fashioned values that have served Australia well in recent times, have again won out over potential or succession-planning. Voges and Ahmed’s performances, said national selector Rod Marsh, “just couldn’t be ignored”.
That will be cold comfort to Queenslander Joe Burns, who in Australia’s last Test innings walked off the SCG to a heroes’ ovation after flaying the Indian attack to all parts of the ground. At 25 he has plenty more of those innings ahead of him though may shift uneasily at the thought of others nailing down spots in his most unlucky absence. As a selector, Marsh is probably thankful that these are currently the types of problems he contends with.
Unfortunate too are World Cup winners James Faulkner and Glenn Maxwell, victims of their own multi-format success in the sense that crammed limited overs schedules largely preclude them from playing any meaningful stretches of first-class cricket. Both have nevertheless excelled when opportunities have come.
In naming 29-year-old wicketkeeper-batsman Peter Nevill in both squads, Marsh’s panel has also effectively anointed him as Brad Haddin’s successor in the Test arena. A neat and thoughtful player with leadership capabilities, the New South Welshman’s first-class batting average of 44.87 across 53 matches might in callow periods have seen him considered on his batting alone. His 764 runs at 76.4 this summer made him irresistible.
Matthew Wade, whose summer brought a bountiful 572 first-class runs at 57.2, must console himself with the vice-captaincy of the Australia A side that will tour India in July. Rarely has Australia boasted such depth in the position.
More interesting than squad selection itself is Australia’s likely batting order, which remains far from settled. With Michael Clarke returning to the side, the 5-6 positions are likely to be split between Shaun Marsh – a forgotten man of the past few months but a Test incumbent nonetheless – his all-rounder brother Mitchell and Voges. Shane Watson now also looks an even more puzzling presence in possession of number three, a spot from which he’s recently been demoted in his favoured 50-over format.
The preference for Peter Siddle to provide bowling depth rather than the younger, faster and doubtless tempting option of Pat Cummins, reflects that an eight-Test winter will be a marathon, not a sprint. With Ryan Harris missing the West Indies component of the schedule for the birth of his first child (would he have been wrapped in cotton wool and held back for the main event anyway?), Siddle could yet figure in the Caribbean Tests because the Australians will be wary of blunting Mitchell Johnson’s effectiveness for the Ashes campaign.
Mitchell Starc has zigged and zagged in the longest format but his blistering white ball form is likely to land him inside the XI to start with. James Pattinson’s hamstring injury ruled him out of the West Indies leg of the tour but though he was named in neither squad, an appearance later isn’t totally out of the question.
The constricted nature of the touring schedule was surely cause for consternation. The first Test in Antigua starts on 29 May – just four weeks away now – and with breaks of just four and three days between Caribbean Tests and then only seven days after that until the first tour match of the Ashes schedule, informed player management will necessarily rear its head in some form.
Outside of Nevill’s ascent over Wade, the most interesting decision of the day though was Usman Khawaja’s elevation to the captaincy of the India-bound Australia A squad, which will also features Burns, Cummins, Maxwell and Ashton Agar. Considered at various points a player of narrow and individualistic focus, this sends a message that he is in line for batting responsibility once Clarke, Watson and Chris Rogers exit the Test arena. The last young batsman given such a noteworthy nod was Australia A’s 2013 vice-captain, Steve Smith.
Australian Test squad to face the West Indies and England: Michael Clarke (c), Steve Smith (vc), Fawad Ahmed, Brad Haddin, Josh Hazlewood, Ryan Harris*, Mitchell Johnson, Nathan Lyon, Shaun Marsh, Mitchell Marsh, Peter Nevill, Chris Rogers, Peter Siddle, Mitchell Starc, Adam Voges, David Warner, Shane Watson.
*Harris to tour UK only
This article was written by Russell Jackson, for theguardian.com on Tuesday 31st March 2015 05.19 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010