Cricket Australia announced a 21-man squad for the short tour of England starting in September. In normal times this number would be wildly excessive, but these are far from normal times.
By the time white ball hits bat most of these players won’t have played a proper ODI or T20 game in at least four or five months, so selectors don’t have any recent form to go by when putting together this squad.
In similar vein, depending on how things pan out with various travel restrictions, selectors might have few first-class games to choose its squad for the upcoming Test series, so this is a first draft about who they might take into the First Test of the summer.
I’ve named a squad of 22 which, again, seems excessive, but there’s method to the madness.
The last international ODI in England will be played on 16 September and the first game of the IPL starts in the UAE three days later. Players from both England and Australia who are contracted to IPL franchises have to spend a mandated week in quarantine, which means all are likely to miss the first week of the tournament when travel time to get to the UAE is factored in.
Missing the first week becomes important because franchises would be loath to release players back to Australia if they were playing well and the team was likely to figure in the finals. A lot of money has been paid for these guys and obviously each team wants maximum bang for buck.
The final of the IPL is scheduled for 10 November, and with travel back to Australia, followed by additional quarantine measures on the players’ return, more than one of the current Test side are likely to be missing for the game against Afghanistan on 21 November.
The format and venues for the Indian tour is also a bit of a lottery at present. Cricket Australia will obviously be keen to play the four-Test series at the venues it announced earlier in the year, especially the Tests at the MCG and SCG, but the situation in Victoria and possibly Sydney may not allow games to be played there.
There are also significant travel restrictions in place, so once the India series starts, if these restrictions are still there, flying in ready-to-go replacements might be impossible.
Given those factors, this is my squad, with asterisked players denoting those playing in the IPL: Dave Warner*, Joe Burns, Marnus Labuschagne, Steve Smith*, Matthew Wade, Travis Head, Tim Paine, Pat Cummins*, Mitchell Starc, Nathan Lyon, Josh Hazlewood*, James Pattinson, Usman Khawaja, Alex Carey, Trent Copeland, Riley Meredith, Aaron Finch, Cameron Green, Will Puckovski, Matthew Renshaw, Lloyd Pope, Adam Zampa.
The first 12 names are self-explanatory. Alex Carey is also a fairly simple choice as an understudy to Tim Paine, while I expect James Pattinson to play three of the five Tests this summer. The other choices require more explanation.
Australia at present has a dearth of Test-quality first-class batsmen outside our best Test XI. In recent times a number of guys have been given opportunities, especially as openers, but not only have they failed to take them, their form has dropped away alarmingly – for example, Marcus Harris and Cameron Bancroft.
Usman Khawaja is a standby opener. This is by far his best position in Tests, and he could form a very solid combination with Joe Burns assuming Warner misses the Afghanistan Test due to IPL commitments or if form or injury affects either opener.
Will Puckovski and Cameron Green are my ‘potential’ selections. That is, they’ve both shown plenty at an early stage of their careers to warrant being included in this squad.
Aaron Finch and Matt Renshaw are my smokies to bat in the middle order. Neither had a great time of it when asked to open the batting at Test level. In Finch’s case that was simply a case of putting the right bloke in the wrong position in the line-up. He’d be well-suited to batting at No. 5 or No. 6, especially after the top four have set up a platform for him.
Finch would also be my standby captain if anything were to prevent Paine from playing. He’s good enough to hold a spot in the middle order and has shown he has plenty of cricket smarts with the way he’s led the Australian white-ball teams. If Paine were injured, Carey would come in to keep and Finch would bat at No. 5 in place of Wade.
Renshaw might seem a surprising choice, but he’s already hinted at dropping down the order for the Bulls, and I think he has a good enough technique to make a real go of batting Nos. 4, 5 or 6. He would be last in the pecking order for a middle-order spot, but he could be the future of the line-up along with Labuschagne, Smith, Puckovski and Head if he can make a go of the drop down the order.
Meredith and Copeland are like-for-like selections if anything were to happen to any of the quicks. Chris Tremain is another who could be in the mix instead of Copeland. I don’t see a place for Michael Neser or Chad Sayers unless they play more than one day-night Test or play more than one Test at the Gabba.
I mentioned earlier that Australia is weak in the batting department, but we’re even worse off for Test-quality spinners, especially when playing a team like India.
Adam Zampa was favourite last season to either play with Lyon if conditions suited playing two spinners or instead of Lyon if he were injured. He may well be the next cab off the rank, but I think he’s better suited to white-ball cricket in the same way Ashton Agar’s bowling is.
I’d include Zampa, but I like Lloyd Pope as another option.
At some point soon Pope needs to decide whether he wants to be a Test spinner or a white-ball spinner, because it’s very difficult to be both. His first-class figures aren’t great, but he’s played only the five games and he’s also only 20 years old. He’s got a pretty useful wrong ‘un, he’s a bowler the Indians won’t have experienced and he’s capable of taking a swag as the following footage highlights.
I’m not sure he’s ready for Test cricket, but the spinning stocks are that bare, he might get a call-up.
If things play out as I suspect they might, with the clash of the IPL finals and the start date of the Perth Test, the Australian XI for that game could well be:
Finch would bat in the middle order assuming he’s in some sort of form following the England tournament.
It will be interesting to see what Cricket Australia decides to do. Much will obviously depend on restrictions about playing cricket, quarantining et cetera, but there’s no doubt we’re in for an exciting summer of Test cricket.