Australian squad selections are rarely smooth and almost never universally well-received these days, but I reckon the Australian squad for the limited-overs tour of India is about right.
After a disappointing World Cup this year, it was a natural progression that this Australian summer’s one-dayers and Twenty20s would be used to introduce new blood into the system.
Australia head to India after the third Test against New Zealand in Sydney to play three one-dayers on 14, 17 and 19 January.
The squad was named on Tuesday and, as always, the focus has been on who was left out. In all, eight players from the World Cup squad were left out: Usman Khawaja, Shaun Marsh, Matthew Wade, Marcus Stoinis, Glenn Maxwell, Jason Behrendorff, Nathan Lyon and Nathan Coulter-Nile.
In their place comes Marnus Labuschagne, Sean Abbott – who hasn’t played an ODI since 2014 – Ashton Agar, Ashton Turner and, rather surprisingly given the state of his hamstring, Josh Hazlewood.
As pointed out by Ronan O’Connell yesterday, it’s the first time Hazlewood has been teamed with Pat Cummins and Mitchell Starc in ODI cricket in well over a year.
Obviously, with only 14 going to India, at least three players from the 17-man World Cup squad were going to miss out anyway, but there’s a real changing of the guard about it.
And, frankly, of course there should be.
With less than four years until the next World Cup, there’s no better time than now to start looking at newer, younger options. And for the most part it’s actually hard to argue with much of the change of direction.
At 32 Nathan Lyon could well be still playing by the time the next World Cup rolls around, but 29 ODIs in nine seasons tells you that he’s never really nailed down the preferred spinner’s spot with the white ball. And though he didn’t have a great time at the World Cup, Adam Zampa still has time on his side. As does Ashton Agar, whose batting is also about to become more important.
Behrendorff is unavailable because of injury anyway, and presuming Hazlewood can regain fitness, it’s not a bad call to throw the best bowling attack in the world the white ball too. Abbott didn’t necessarily have the best state one-day campaign with the ball, but he has hit a bit of form since, taking 12 wickets in his last seven games across various formats. And has made handy lower-order runs for New South Wales of late too.
On World Cup form you certainly couldn’t argue with Stoinis’s omission, but he’s actually made similar returns with the ball as Abbott, taking 21 wickets in his last ten games for Western Australia. But five scores under three in his last six games undo all of that. His bowling has always been reasonable – if over-reliant on the shorter lengths – but his batting is going to be what gives him a point of difference.
Maxwell has clearly been left out from a lack of cricket, with his recent time out from the game to take on mental health struggles rightly treated like an injury. Just getting back on the cricket field will be his most immediate priority, and so retaining him in a national squad that contributed what he described as mental and physical burnout would be pushing duty-of-care boundaries.
Ronan wondered yesterday if their omissions might spell the end of Shaun Marsh and Usman Khawaja’s Australian careers, and I think you can probably throw Matthew Wade’s national limited-over ambitions in this mix as well.
Every Australian cricket fan and armchair selector will know full well the perils of putting a line through Marsh’s name, but at 36 right now you do have to wonder if it really is his time in the green and gold done. It’s hard to see him doing anything in the next few years that couldn’t be done just as well by a younger player.
And everyone’s cult hero Marnus Labuschagne certainly looks like that player right now. In the form of his life currently, there are far fewer reasons not to include him than to name him for what world be a well-deserved international limited-overs debut.
I don’t like Wade’s chances of getting back into the side – for much the same reason as Marsh, actually – but I don’t think the door has completely closed on Khawaja just yet. But he might only have 18 or so months to regain his spot before it just becomes too easy for the selectors to move on from him.
These three ODIs in India in January, along with the games in South African in February, are certainly going to give us a clear heads-up on who the selectors think will lead the next World Cup campaign, and there’s no doubt there’s a huge opportunity in front of the players selected for India most immediately.
And it will be most intriguing to see over time if this squad announcement really has ended a few coloured-gear careers.