The first thing to consider when assessing Australia’s likely squad for the upcoming two-Test tour of Bangladesh is that the hosts have won only four of their 51 home Tests so far, drawing 12 and losing 35. As slippery as Bangladesh can be on their day and as bad as things have become for Australia on this England tour, whatever Steve Smith-captained XI takes the field at Chittagong in a month’s time will fancy its chances of a rebound series win.
All the more reason, one would assume, to trial a few players who’ll play a lot of cricket for Australia in the next decade anyway. Yet the precise fall-out from the failed Ashes campaign is still to be seen. Below are three potential squads; the most likely one, a conservative one and an experimental one, a subjective exercise to be certain but one that has thrown up enough names as to highlight the state of flux that Australian cricket could enter in the next few years as selectors look to regenerate the batting order in particular. Only Smith and David Warner of the top six at Trent Bridge have a long-term future beyond a tough three-Test summer engagement with New Zealand.
The first two teams here are also dependent opener batsman Chris Rogers being talked into soldiering on into his 39th year. If that doesn’t happen, Usman Khawaja is his most likely replacement and will probably be in the XI already regardles, but he might also stay down the order if the more dour Cameron Bancroft is preferred at the top. Unluckily discarded Queenslander Joe Burns hovers close to the top six, while Peter Nevill will surely take the wicket-keeping gloves no matter what transpires.
The likely XI
1. Chris Rogers, 2. David Warner 3. Steve Smith (captain), 4. Usman Khawaja, 5. Shaun Marsh, 6. Mitchell Marsh, 7. Peter Nevill, 8. Mitchell Johnson, 9. Mitchell Starc, 10. Nathan Lyon, 11. Fawad Ahmed. 12th man: Joe Burns
The top order looks a lot more stable with Rogers in it, a factor that should see a lot of arm-twisting occur in the next few weeks. Khawaja’s elevation to the captaincy of Australia A seemed a particularly significant nod from the national selectors and given the likelihood that they’ll refuse to discard both Adam Voges and Shaun Marsh, the latter is more likely to retain his place in spin-friendly conditions.
Australia’s bowlers mostly escaped scrutiny during this Ashes series by virtue of Australia’s batting being so god-awful, but with Mitchell Starc firing enough to warrant spearhead status and Mitchell Johnson the preferred senior pro, Josh Hazlewood might make way for the second spinner (Ahmed) if the conditions demand it.
In all likelihood Mitchell Marsh will remain the preferred candidate for the all-rounder slot and did indeed do his best Test batting so far at number six in the series against Pakistan in the Emirates. In an ideal world, both James Faulkner (an ultra-competitive and vastly underrated red ball player whose opportunities to impress in first-class cricket are limited by his busy short-form schedule) and muscular, in-form A-teamer Marcus Stoinis will continue to push him.
A question lingers in regards to that slot through; can a post-Clarke Australian batting line-up really afford the luxury of batting an all-rounder at six? If so, wicket-keeping newcomer Nevill will need to be relied upon for regular runs. Should a specialist batsman be preferred to the younger Marsh, Burns was mightily unlucky to miss the West Indies and Ashes trips and could return to the fold at number six.
The conservative XI
1. Chris Rogers, 2. David Warner 3. Steve Smith (captain), 4. Shaun Marsh, 5. Adam Voges, 6. Shane Watson, 7. Peter Nevill, 8. Mitchell Starc, Nathan Lyon, Josh Hazlewood, Mitchell Johnson. 12thman: Fawad Ahmed
It’s hard to see what would be achieved by going back to the well on players like Marsh and Shane Watson or sticking with Voges given his age and recent form, capable as they all are. Technically speaking a conservative side would probably rest the primary pacemen, replacing them with the likes of cricket-starved Pat Cummins, hardy veteran Peter Siddle and the extra spinner (Ahmed), but Johnson, Hazlewood and Starc are the incumbents and right now shape as a default attack for New Zealand visit in summer.
Shaun Marsh is a conservative pick here in the sense that he’s already capped and a known quantity, but also because the conditions will suit him. Nevertheless, the younger pair of Burns and Khawaja could feel harshly done by if the older Marsh continues to be handed games when he doesn’t represent the future of the Australian batting order. Fawad Ahmed has for months smiled through the probably-glum experience of carrying the drinks for an outgunned side, but really should get his belated call-up for a baggy green.
The experimental XI
1.Usman Khawaja, 2. Cameron Bancroft, 3. David Warner, 4. Steve Smith (captain), 5. Joe Burns, 6. Glenn Maxwell, 7. Peter Nevill, 8. Gurinder Sandhu, 9. Mitchell Starc, 10. Fawad Ahmed, 11. Nathan Lyon. 12th man: Peter Handscomb
You couldn’t pick every one of these players in the one Test team, of course, but the side above contains a host of players who represent either a solid investment for the future or ‘horses for courses’ picks in spin-friendly conditions.
If the search to replace Rogers is a hunt for a like-for-like player, Bancroft is the best-qualified youngster, a 22-year-old stone-waller who can quite literally bat all day, even if his first-class strike rate currently languishes in the 30s. Pairing him with the richly-talented and more attacking Khawaja would allow both to play in the position in which they specialise and perhaps free up both Warner and Smith by moving each down a slot. Warner would probably bray at the suggestion, mind you.
Peter Handscomb wouldn’t make the squad on merit but just as Australia should have taken David Hussey to India in 2013, Handscomb would be a ‘needs’ inclusion as one of Australia’s best young players of spin bowling. In truth he’s still well back in the pecking order, mixing a bright 91 with a pair of ducks on the recent A tour of India. Glenn Maxwell might not have a lot of fans as a red-ball cricketer but his first-class average still sits north of 40, his bowling and fielding remain an asset and so does his clear determination to establish himself as a Test cricketer. Maxwell’s hunger for Test responsibility is perhaps undersold.
If you wanted to get truly funky, Handscomb could relieve Nevill of the gloves and one of hard-hitting Queenslander Chris Lynn or mature Callum Ferguson could slot into the batting order. The bowling wildcard for this and future tours of the sub-continent is wily New South Wales paceman Gurinder Sandhu, who has already represented his country in one-day internationals and on the recent A tour even added off-spin to his arsenal when he wasn’t employing his normal cutters and swingers. That would require a rethink of Australia’s gung-ho pursuit of pace, one of a number of selection strategies that is due for considered review.
This article was written by Russell Jackson, for theguardian.com on Monday 10th August 2015 21.30 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010