With the weeks dwindling until their first official World Cup fixture against Afghanistan on June 1, the Australian set up still finds itself grappling with the constitution of their preferred top order.
Diverting from the World Cup for a moment, Australia’s equally important Ashes campaign begins in well under 100 days. Australian players are blessed with a wealth of preparation, the kind rarely afforded before an Ashes quest.
The combination of a bumper English domestic season littered with Australian representation, the big stage of a World Cup and A-tour matches – all in English conditions – present the tourists with enormous opportunity. To allow players maximum time in presenting their case, the 17-man squad will be confirmed only the week of the first Test in Edgbaston.
The fact this squad contains so many places, choosing one that is balanced and versatile remains paramount. Australia’s past neglect to take risks when faced with the daunting away Ashes task has impeded their attempts at triumph. On the other hand, bold selection moves of players with the experience and suitability for the conditions have paid dividends. I think about the wise selections of Chris Rogers in 2013 and Peter Siddle in 2015 – albeit for a single match – and the resulting positive impact.
Australia must arm itself with a varied squad of players who can adapt and cover all bases.
Will Glenn Maxwell win another opportunity? After all, it is an overseas tour. In a short time frame he has added plenty to the Lancashire set-up. We know his spin bowling is so often underrated and underutilised and would provide useful backup where required. It was only a fortnight ago he was a matchwinner with the ball in a championship match, earning the praises of teammate Jimmy Anderson. A man with a first-class average over 40 must be quite capable with the blade too.
While replacing a gloveman on foreign soil can be done with a single flight, there are multiple capable players with strong claims as pure batsmen. Matthew Wade immediately springs to mind. The recent domestic season saw him in the form of his life, amassing 1800 runs and averaging over 40 in both the Sheffield Shield and BBL competitions. Wade, who, like Maxwell, rarely seems part of the selectors’ plans, scored tough runs for Tasmania often in testing conditions where others failed. It is anybody’s guess whether he will be given the chance to add to his admittedly modest 22-test career.
Part-time keepers Cameron Bancroft and Peter Handscomb would have to be in the frame too. Bancroft returned to domestic cricket with immediate impact, and the Durham captain will look to firm his chances with the bat over the next couple of months. Peter Handscomb oozed quality for Victoria over the summer gone, and while his ODI exploits weren’t enough for a World Cup place, his name will surely be in this conversation. His past stints at the top level have found him exposed at times with his game wanting tweaking, but domestic runs in the UK in the past will be in his favour, as would solid form leading in.
This pair may compete for a reserve batsman place in the side at this point, as a logjam of opening candidates and the progression of Travis Head and Kurtis Patterson in the middle order makes it tricky for both. A relief keeper in Australia’s squad might put a few minds at rest – unexpected events on the morning of a Test match could make a backup gloveman imperative.
If Australia surprise and decide to include the above-mentioned Maxwell, the need for a backup spinner may be negated. But at this point the talk surrounds Jon Holland as the reserve spinner should anything unforeseen impact the evergreen Nathan Lyon.
From a pace attack perspective one would assume the squad will contain staples in Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood and Pat Cummins, but it’s the reserve options that interest me most. Both Jhye Richardson and James Pattinson make excellent cases if fit, but in addition Australia must prioritise at least one wild card type. The criteria including a skill set suited to English bowling with the Duke ball, with swinging the ball, is essential, supported by multiple seasons of strong first-class performances.
There are a number of quicks who fit this bill – Chris Tremain, Trent Copeland, Chadd Sayers, Jackson Bird and Michael Neser are just a few. Who could forget Peter Siddle too. There is also the prospect of more left-field choices, with South Australian swing bowlers Daniel Worrall and Nick Winter boasting some attractive Shield numbers. This could give the tourists a diverse pace battery while adding an element of unpredictability for the opposition. Australia has not always taken the bowlers most equipped to bowling in the UK.
With plenty still to play out before the squad selection, I urge Roarers to put forward their (early) 17!