Australia’s Ashes selection puzzle got even more complicated last night after Matt Wade and Travis Head both made centuries for Australia A, just days after Joe Burns and Marcus Harris scored tons in England.
Wade (114) and Head (130*) dominated a talent-laden England Lions bowling attack in Kent to help steer Australia A to 4-362 at stumps on day one of this four-day match.
Veterans David Warner, Steve Smith and Usman Khawaja loom as locks for the first Ashes Test in 17 days from now, if fit, and there is an ever-growing list of contenders for the other three batting spots.
Head, Burns, Harris, Kurtis Patterson and Marnus Labuschagne are incumbents in the Test line-up while Wade’s irresistible form has continued on this Australia A tour of the UK. That’s six batsmen scrapping for just three spots.
After tonning up last night, Wade has now scored six centuries in his past 20 first-class matches amid a monster haul of 1756 runs at 61.
Now playing as a specialist batsman, the former wicketkeeper is also coming off a return of 355 runs at 89 in Australia A’s recent one-day matches in the UK. While those runs came against some weak attacks, last night’s ton was against a very strong bowling unit.
The England Lions boasted recent Test bowlers Sam Curran and Jack Leach, as well as three of the better bowlers in the county system in Ollie Robinson, Jamie Porter and Lewis Gregory who average 22, 24 and 25 in first-class cricket respectively.
These were proper first-class runs against the Dukes ball in English conditions. While Wade’s success in the one-dayers came via extreme aggression, last night he showed he has multiple gears to his batting in the longest format.
When Wade came to the crease Australia A were 3-101 and in need of some stability. The left-hander was content to take his time and play himself in as he creeped to 15 from 47 balls. Having got accustomed to the conditions and his opposition, Wade then unfurled his full range of strokes, scoring his next 99 runs from just 100 deliveries.
Wade’s barnstorming form is putting pressure on Test incumbents Kurtis Patterson and Marnus Labuschagne. Labuschagne has the advantage of offering a handy bowling option and is in incredible form in Division Two of the England County Championship, with five tons for the season.
Patterson, despite shining with 30 and 114* in his two Test innings, is now badly in need of runs with only two or three innings left for Australia A before the Ashes squad is announced. The New South Welshman has lost form since his Test debut, making 198 runs at 20 in his last ten first-class knocks.
While he is an attractive prospect in Tests, Patterson is facing fierce competition for an Ashes spot. Head has less to worry about after his century last night batting at four for Australia A. Having made a great start to his Test career, averaging 51 after eight matches, Head must now be very close to having sewn up his Ashes spot.
The main selection battles now seem to be between Harris and Burns to open alongside Warner, and between Patterson, Wade and Labuschagne for the final middle order spot. Harris (34) and Burns (19) both wasted starts last night, as did Patterson (32).
Unbeaten on 130 at stumps, Head today has a chance to press on and score his maiden first-class double ton, which surely would lock down his Ashes spot. Patterson, meanwhile, will have to make an impression in the second innings of this match to avoid being leapfrogged by Wade and Labuschagne.
The Ashes selection scenarios just keep getting more and more complex.