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As the Ashes loom, how will selectors weigh runs against Sri Lanka?

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Expert
9th January, 2019
10
1182 Reads

As far as squad announcements go, yesterday’s 13-man outfit to face Sri Lanka appeared to appease the increasingly irate masses.

Joe Burns makes a welcome return after a month where his previously under-analysed Shield career all of sudden became back page news. Similarly, Matt Renshaw’s capital grew despite playing very little cricket.

Great white hope Will Pucovski completes the trio of batting inclusions – the young man who represents hope in a brooding, reflective time of Australian cricket. Tick, tick, tick, most fans said.

Through their picks, the selectors have created an ideal scenario for the press – a four-way ‘bat-off’, with the incoming trio and unproven Marcus Labuschage going ‘head-to-head’ in the Cricket Australia XI game against Sri Lanka starting next Thursday.

The selectors deserve praise for fielding a strong CA XI in Hobart – a step in the right direction to re-introducing competitive tour games in world cricket. But how they determine the value of runs scored against Sri Lanka in the context of this year’s Ashes will be intriguing.

Australia’s next test match after the Sri Lanka series is, in fact, the first Ashes Test at Edgbaston on August 1. White-ball cricket (against India and Pakistan, and then the World Cup) dominates the 2019 cricket calendar, and the selectors will have little red ball form to go on before that opening encounter in Birmingham.

Of course, the Sheffield Shield (post-BBL) will play a role in Ashes selection, but even that concludes in late-March/early-April, a whole four months before the Ashes. As a result, the upcoming Sri Lanka tour could play a significant role in determining Australia’s squad for the UK.

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Big runs against what is likely to be a mediocre Sri Lankan attack could still yet prove the currency needed for a ticket to Heathrow later this year. It is, after all, the last international audition. But this goes down a potentially dangerous path.

Will runs against Sri Lanka in Australia be seen as crucial to Ashes selection? What weighting will the selectors give runs against the world’s seventh-ranked side?

It’s possible that Marcus Labuschagne, should he be selected for the first test at the Gabba, could make runs against Sri Lanka on his home deck. The 24-year-old looked organised at the SCG against a strong Indian attack, eventually enticed into a mid-wicket trap for 38.

Hypothetically, should he make a ton in the Sri Lanka series, this could elevate him as a serious chance to be part of that Ashes squad. But given he has yet to play any first-class cricket in the UK, it would leave him exposed to the entirely different UK conditions.

Australia’s Marnus Labuschagne leaves after his dismissal (AP Photo/Kamran Jebreili)

It is similar with the young Pucovski. The pair are yet to play any form of county cricket, and while big runs against Sri Lanka so early in their careers – again, hypothetically should they be picked – would be impressive, it shouldn’t beholden the selectors into picking them for the UK, where facing Broad and Anderson on green seamers presents a monumentally different task than Lakmal and Kumara on home decks.

Labuschagne and Pucovski contrast with Renshaw and Burns in this regard, who have form in the UK game. Renshaw with a swashbuckling cameo at Somerset earlier this year, and Burns with Leicestershire and Middlesex in recent years.

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This is not to suggest that the selectors are blessed with an abundance of batting riches on which to pick from for the Ashes – Justin Langer made that clear last week. But selection, you would hope, would be far more nuanced than on the back of runs against a mediocre pace attack at the end of the summer.

Joe Burns

Joe Burns reaches 50 against India. Will he be selected for the upcoming Test? (AAP Image/Dan Himbrechts)

You would also hope for a shelving of the notion that if a batsman is to make a hundred against Sri Lanka, he must be picked for England.

The lack of batting experience leading into this year’s Ashes again begs the question why the selectors haven’t included Glenn Maxwell in any of their red ball plans.

It has become almost monotonous talking about the unlucky Victorian’s plight, but Wednesday’s squad announcement was just another indicator they have no plans for him.

It’s another dagger to the heart of a player who deserves an extended go at the top, one many of his colleagues have been afforded but has never come his way.