Australian Selectors have announced a 13-man squad for the first two Ashes Tests and it can be considered a massive shock. No less than six players from their last Test in Bangladesh have been dropped – the most since the end of World Series Cricket in 1979-80 – whilst recalling two questionable players.
Tim Paine has been given the Test wicketkeeping gloves for the first time in seven years as his Tasmanian colleague Matthew Wade is relieved of the duty. The number six batsman position will go to Shaun Marsh, recalled yet again, as the selectors decide on six specialist batsmen. In addition, Cameron Bancroft’s sublime Sheffield Shield form this season has given him the opportunity to usurp Matt Renshaw’s opener position.
Seven Years Without Paine
The choice of Tim Paine as wicketkeeper appears a desperate act from the Australian selectors. It seems perplexing that Paine should get the job when he has only kept wicket for a handful of occasions in the last two years. He played mainly in the second team last year and was about to give up cricket to take a job with Kookaburra before his fortunes changed. Having last scored a first-class century in 2006, one year before coach Darren Lehmann’s last, Paine has clearly been selected on his glovework. With Paine considered ostensibly as the “best keeper”, Peter Nevill must wonder what he must do to get recalled. Paine’s form against England in a warm-up game convinced the selectors that he was fit for purpose.
The Return of Shaun Marsh….Again
When Marsh didn’t feature after the Test against India at Dharamsala in March, the batsman must have considered, like many others, that his Test career was over. However, Australian selectors think that he’s played well enough in Sheffield Shield cricket to earn a ninth recall. Chairman of Selectors Trevor Hohns said that Marsh had performed “performed much, much better and demanded to be chosen.” This is despite Glenn Maxwell having a slightly better batting average in Sheffield Shield cricket this year. The selection of Marsh failed to recognise his age, 34, and the fact that he struggles to stay fit. England will feel buoyed by his selection and will target him. His only appearance in the Ashes was at Trent Bridge in 2015 when he scored 0 and 2.
Red Hot Bancroft replaces Ice Cold Renshaw
Unsurprisingly, versatile Western Australian opener Cameron Bancroft will debut in Baggy Green. His double century in the last Sheffield Shield game cemented his place in the squad. Whilst Bancroft was scoring runs for fun (442 with an average of 110.50), Matthew Renshaw has struggled somewhat recently (70 runs in six innings). However, his form for Australia was thought by many to give him a chance to stay in the squad. This view was not shared by the Australian selectors and is said to be ‘shattered’. Despite the massive differential in statistics, Bancroft’s readiness for Test level will be tested by England. It seems ironic that Steve Smith said that “The Ashes is not a place where you are trying to find your form” but is happy for Bancroft to start his Test form from scratch.
The Australian selectors have, with their strange selections, handed back some of the advantages that they had naturally accumulated prior to the start of the series. Australia’s batting line-up now feels that Warner and Smith are just as pressured to score as Cook and Root are for England. Khawaja’s selection should be a solid one as his home Test form is excellent.
Handscomb will need to get amongst the runs after his troubles in India or he too could find that his place is in jeopardy. Marsh’s selection at six will put pressure on the bowling unit to succeed as ancillary bowling options are limited. With Hazlewood returning from injury, the home side’s ability to bowl England out twice would be severely impinged should the bowler get a reoccurrence of his side strain.
The inclusion of Jackson Bird and Chadd Sayers suggests that they have other options for the Adelaide Oval. The Australian Selectors may be vindicated at the end of the series. However, it appears to be a risky strategy to go back to Paine and Marsh.