Come the second week of June, Australia will have two entirely different squads in Britain at the same time – and neither of them will be Ashes squads.
With the lack of domestic competitions (barring County cricket), it is a fair assumption the make-up of these dual squads will feature virtually every cricketer in frame for the Ashes, thus giving them significance beyond the tours themselves.
The three-game, pre-Ashes tour for Australia’s development squad begins in Scotland on the seventh of June, with Australia’s One Day International (ODI) team kicking off their Champion’s Trophy game the following day against England at Edgebaston.
Both squads are expected to be named in the near future, and the fact they will – by necessity – be mutually exclusive means delving into their make-up is an interesting exercise, if not mostly guesswork.
Traditionally used to blood youngsters or trial potential additions to the national team, John Inverarity and his cadre of selectors must resist the temptation to sacrifice the A tour for the sake of squad depth in the Champion’s Trophy.
Khawaja will be on one of the tours, but needs to be in the starting XI regardless of which, whereas ignoring O’Keefe when there will essentially be two Australian squads simultaneously would effectively pronounce a death notice for the offspinner’s short to mid-term international prospects.
Another, interrelated issue that must be resolved in the make-up of the squads is the rewarding of players who performed well on the domestic circuit.
There were no shortage of impressive pace bowlers in the Sheffield Shield, and as the pace attack for the ODI team is well stocked, the A tour should be used to reward players such as Chadd Sayers.
Gurinder Sandhu, the surprise recipient of the Steve Waugh medal for best NSW player of the domestic season, earns his place both on merit and on future prospects.
With the selectors having so far given no hints of each squad’s makeup, allow me to speculate. The following is my own figuration of the squads:
Potential Australia A squad (16 men):
First XI – Jordan Silk, Chris Rogers, Usman Khawaja, Steve Smith, Joe Burns, Mitch Marsh, Chris Hartley, Steve O’Keefe, Gurinder Sandhu, Chadd Sayers, Pat Cummins.
Others to tour – Alex Doolan, Nic Maddinson, Kane Richardson, Jackson Bird, Ashton Agar
A mixture of youth and experience, with Jordan Silk, Nic Maddinson and Joe Burns possible top-order fixtures for Australia in the next couple of years, while veteran Chris Rogers deserves a chance to press his Ashes claim.
Working on the assumption James Faulkner is ahead of Mitch Marsh for international honours, I’d pick Marsh for his batting in the A squad. Hartley is the best gloveman in Australia and deserves recognition.
Working on the assumption every player in the Ashes party will be in one of the squads, Bird and Cummins should tour, while Steve Smith and Khawaja would be better served playing first-team cricket on an A tour than not starting in the Trophy squad.
While seemingly the perpetual unpicked, Steve O’Keefe should be first spinner with Agar as understudy, though the issue becomes complicated in the event that Fawad Ahmed is granted a passport in time for the tour and, with Nathan Lyon currently not playing any cricket, the selectors may give him precedence.
Potential ODI Champion’s Trophy squad (17 men):
First XI – Shane Watson, David Warner, Phil Hughes, Michael Clarke, George Bailey, Adam Voges, Matthew Wade, James Pattinson, Mitchell Starc, Ryan Harris, Xavier Doherty
Others to tour – Glenn Maxwell, Brad Haddin, James Faulkner, Moises Henriques, Shaun Marsh, Clint McKay
In contrast to the Test side, the ODI side’s top order is relatively settled, with Watson and Warner (whose pedigrees, in this form at least, are intact) along with Clarke, Bailey and Wade sure to be in the top seven.
Hughes showed excellent form in the one-day arena during the Australian summer and should escape scrutiny to bat at first-drop, while Voges’ last three scores for Australia read 112*, 51 and 81.
Pattinson, Starc, Harris and McKay are a formidable pace offering, and should fight for three spots, while the selectors appear to have their hearts set on Doherty as the sole spin option.
James Faulkner impressed against the West Indies and should be ahead of Ben Cutting and John Hastings for a place in the squad, though the selection panel has a penchant for all-rounders and several may travel.
The backup options in the format – Shaun Marsh Aaron Finch, and Luke Pomersbach among them – will probably fight for a spot alongside Maxwell as batting options on the bench but Marsh may be fractionally ahead, while Brad Haddin presumably rounds off the squad.