Glenn Maxwell and Peter Handscomb have been deemed surplus to requirements in the first Australian Test squad since the Newlands ball-tampering scandal, with the experienced Victorian pair of Aaron Finch and Peter Siddle called into a team to fill the gulf of experience left by Steven Smith, David Warner and the injured Pat Cummins and Josh Hazlewood.
Another member of Australia’s previous Test team, Joe Burns, has also been discarded, with the South Australia captain Travis Head granted a long-form opportunity. The conscientious Bulls middle-order batsman Marnus Labuschagne made a late run for inclusion in the squad after being called up to Australia A as injury cover for Matt Renshaw, who has also been included.
The all-out pace of Brendan Doggett has seen him win a place alongside Michael Neser and Ashton Agar, who will serve as the back-up spin bowler to Nathan Lyon and the Victorian Jon Holland. The new coach Justin Langer’s loyalty to Mitchell and Shaun Marsh has seen both included, the former a likely candidate for the vice-captaincy when the Cricket Australia Board deliberates on the identity of Paine’s lieutenant in the coming days.
The exclusion of Maxwell, at a time when Australia’s Test-batting stocks have seldom been lower, is a grim sign for the 29-year-old’s future Test-match prospects. Trevor Hohns, the selection chairman, explained that the omissions of Maxwell, Handscomb and the West Australian fast bowler Jhye Richardson were intended to exhort the trio to demand a place via domestic performances.
“Joe, Peter and Glenn were players we discussed when selecting the batting group, but we had to take into account the conditions and competition we are set to face in the upcoming series,” Hohns said. “All three remain on our radar for Test cricket, but we want them to perform for their States and continue to push their case ahead of what is going to be a big Australian summer.
“Jhye is a player who has a bright future in all formats, and has been impressive in his international opportunities to date. He is one of a number of developing bowlers adding to the depth of our fast bowling group, and we see him potentially having an important role to play in the shorter formats of the game in the immediate future.”
In selecting Finch and Siddle, Langer and the selection panel appear to have tried to infuse the team with experienced leaders, capable of helping Paine to rebuild the team’s culture and identity after the traumas of South Africa. Siddle last played a Test for Australia in 2016 at the WACA Ground, when he broke down with an injury after being rushed back into the team, and was described as a “warrior” by Hohns.
“Peter is a proven performer in the Test arena, who has been in outstanding form in his recent first-class outings over in England,” Hohns said. “His experience will be crucial for this bowling group, and we know that he is a warrior who can bowl the type of long, tight spells which may be required in the conditions we expect to face.
“Aaron is in sensational form, and this is the right time to give him a chance to play Test cricket. He has performed well in the Sheffield Shield in recent seasons, and brings added experience and leadership to this group. Travis has improved his game immensely over the past 12 months, and is the type of player we want in this environment. He’s a hard worker who has performed well with the bat in his recent four-day opportunities for Australia A and South Australia.
“Michael is a strong all-round cricketer – he bowls and bats well, and is a mature player coming off a fantastic Sheffield Shield season for Queensland. He has impressed us with his performances for Australia A and in his white-ball opportunities for Australia. Marnus is a young player with plenty of potential and a great work ethic. He has performed well in the Sheffield Shield, has shown he’s a good player of spin for Australia A in India, and is an elite fielder who offers added variety with the ball as a leg-spin option.”
Doggett’s selection, after only nine first-class matches – including the current Australia A fixture – maintains Australia’s obsession with bowlers of high pace. Hohns characterised Doggett as a backup for Starc, and he would also become the second indigenous male cricketer to earn a baggy green cap – after Jason Gillespie – if he starts.
“Brendan is an exciting prospect, a fast bowler with raw pace and wicket-taking ability,” Hohns said. “He provides an additional option to Mitchell Starc if extra pace is called for, and this is an ideal opportunity to get him involved in a national set-up for the first time after his recent showings for Queensland and Australia A.
“There has been significant change to our Test squad, due to the unavailability of a number of key players. That said, we firmly believe the squad selected is up to the challenge ahead, and is capable of playing a brand of cricket that can perform well in this series against Pakistan. There are five potential debutants in the squad, all of whom have earned selection through their performances and deserve this opportunity.
“It’s a blend of experienced players who have a significant amount of either Test or first-class cricket, and a number of younger players who we are confident are ready for the Test arena. Looking at the conditions we may face in the UAE, we believe this squad covers all bases. We have selected four front-line fast bowlers and three spinners, with Mitchell Marsh ready to play as an all-rounder and a number of top-order batsmen who also offer part-time spin options.”
Australia squad: Tim Paine (capt, wk), Ashton Agar, Brendan Doggett, Aaron Finch, Travis Head, Jon Holland, Usman Khawaja, Marnus Labuschagne, Nathan Lyon, Mitchell Marsh, Shaun Marsh, Michael Neser, Matthew Renshaw, Peter Siddle, Mitchell Starc
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @danbrettig
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