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Pace stars in Ashes battle, while Bancroft firms as Aussie opener

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30th July, 2019
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Usman Khawaja and James Pattinson will return in the first Ashes Test, while Cameron Bancroft is set to partner David Warner at the top of Australia’s order.

Cameron Bancroft is set to be recalled for the first Ashes Test, while Usman Khawaja and James Pattinson’s returns have been rubber stumped as Australia edge closer to picking an XI for Edgbaston.

Khawaja hasn’t played a game since tweaking his hamstring on July 6 during Australia’s World Cup loss to South Africa.

Pattinson hasn’t represented Australia in three and a half years because of multiple injuries, most notably a recurring back problem that prompted him to undergo major spinal surgery in 2017.

Coach Justin Langer has confirmed the Victorian paceman’s outstanding recent form, in last week’s intra-squad match and the preceding Australia A tour, will be rewarded by selectors.

Khawaja will bat at No.3, while Josh Hazlewood is favoured to win the final spot in the attack ahead of Peter Siddle and Mitchell Starc.

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Finalising whether Bancroft or Marcus Harris should partner David Warner in the five-Test series opener, which starts on Thursday, proved one of the most agonising calls for Langer and on-duty selector Trevor Hohns.

It’s believed Bancroft has won the selection showdown, which would mean the Cape Town trio make simultaneous Test returns at a venue renowned for being England’s most rowdy.

“I know what the reception is going to be. I think we all do,” Langer said.

“There’s nothing we can do about it.

“He (Bancroft) is a good kid … physically he’s as tough as anyone you’ve seen in your life, mentally he’s going to have to be strong.”

Langer wouldn’t confirm Bancroft’s recall on Tuesday, opting against revealing the 12 players now under consideration for the first Test. 

“We don’t want to give England all our secrets,” he said.

Selectors mulled the merits of picking Mitch Marsh on a pitch described as “rock hard” by Langer but Travis Head and Matthew Wade are expected to claim the final two spots in the middle order.

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Warner, who stopped batting in the nets on Monday after being struck on the thigh, had a hit on Tuesday to allay fears he was in any doubt for the first Test.

Pattinson’s recall means Australia’s new-ball pairing of recent years, Hazlewood and Starc, won’t take the field on Thursday.

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It is possible both Starc and Hazlewood will be left on the sidelines, an unthinkable prospect when they helped Australia steamroll England 4-0 during the most recent Ashes.

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However, Hazlewood is firming to return from the back injury that has kept him on the sidelines since January.

“Starcy, Peter Siddle and Josh Hazlewood (are fighting) for one spot,” Langer said.

“All three are great or very, very good bowlers aren’t they?

“Usman Khawaja will definitely be in. He’s fit, ready to go, he’s playing well and he’s a seasoned pro.”

Australia brought their main session for the week forward to Monday, recognising wet weather is likely to limit time outdoors on Tuesday and Wednesday.