It seems to be a straightforward selection call by Cricket Australia, who announced the squad for the World Test Championship (WTC) final against India and also the first two Ashes Tests.
With Australia set to play as many as six Tests in a one-and-a-half month span, they have perhaps done the smart thing by announcing the squad for the first three Tests of the summer, with a call for the remainder of the games perhaps taken later depending on the form and injury concerns.
Let’s try and dissect some of the decisions taken by George Bailey & co.
Bancroft not being picked, justified
Australia have named four openers for the upcoming matches, with Marcus Harris being the latest inclusion. Harris played the Ashes in 2019 on English soil, scoring 8, 19, 13, 6, 3 and 9 in his six innings. However, he has been in fine form in the 2022 County Championship having scored 726 runs at 42.70 for Gloucestershire and has started off this season with 59 and 148 against Glamorgan.
Cameron Bancroft may have finished as the leading run-getter in the Sheffield Shield, but his stints in County cricket have been far from convincing. In fact, he did not play in England last year at all, and this year, turning up for Somerset, thus far has only managed to notch up 87 runs from four innings.
The fact that Harris has fared better in English conditions more recently puts him ahead just a bit. Not to forget, Australia have also gone in with Matt Renshaw, who is fresh from a couple of centuries against New Zealand A. There will be a lot of pressure on David Warner, who averages a mediocre 26 in England, having played 13 Tests there.
What wrong did Neser do?
Fast bowler Michael Neser could feel a little undone with the decision not to include him. He has been brilliant for Glamorgan over the last two seasons, picking up 60 wickets at 21.9 in 14 games for them.
If that was not enough, he was the second-highest wicket-taker in the Sheffield Shield with 40 wickets at 16.67. However, Bailey has hinted that there yet could be a chance for Neser to play a part in the Ashes.
“We've got Sean Abbott and Michael Neser over there playing county cricket. They're obviously on the ground playing lots of cricket, so we can call on them if we need," Bailey said.
“We keep an eye on all the guys that are over there playing. I think specifically around the bowling front, we've got our first choice for quicks over there. And then if we do need to call upon another quick we can be really specific around who we need.”
In case of an injury, Neser well and truly could be the first name to be added to the squad. But to not have him in the first place, seems well and truly puzzling.
Australia's gamble on injury-prone Marsh
It’s no secret that Mitchell Marsh has had his fair of injuries in the recent past. He overcame all that to play a pivotal part in leading Australia to their maiden T20 World Cup title in 2021. Now, he has more or less cemented a place in the ODI side, and with another World Cup around the corner, is it worth risking Marsh for the Tests?
Given that Cameron Green is their first-choice all-rounder, he may have a very minute chance of making the XI. But given an injury, he is the only like-for-like replacement.
Moreover, Marsh has played just one first-class match since April 2021, which came last season against Tasmania where he scored a match-winning century but did not bowl a single over.
Australia could have looked at someone like Aaron Hardie, who smashed a century in the recent series against New Zealand A. The 24-year-old has had a good couple of years in first-class cricket with both bat and ball.
However, he has played just one game in England – for Surrey – last year and it could behoove him to have a little more experience there before making the team.
Fast bowlers' workload under the scanner
Both Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazlewood have had to deal with injuries recently and the last thing Australia would want is to have one of their two premier fast bowlers on the sidelines for a long time again.
While Starc returned to play the last two Tests and the ODIs in India recently, Hazlewood missed the tour due to an Achilles heel injury. However, he has joined Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB) in the Indian Premier League (IPL) recently, and while that could be a good opportunity to regain match fitness, it could prove to be fatal if the injury recurred, resulting in a longer absence.
With Starc, Hazlewood and Pat Cummins likely to be Australia’s first-choice quicks it may not be feasible for them to play all the six Tests. They are also expected to play a key part in the ODI World Cup later this year. Scott Boland could come in to relieve someone or as Bailey pointed out, he could very well pick someone like Neser from County cricket to feature in the second half of the tour.
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