James Pattinson and Travis Head should return to Australia’s starting XI for the first Test against South Africa, while the Aussie T20 team should persist with their five-bowler strategy in New Zealand next month.
They are two of my key takeaways from Australia’s announcement yesterday of their 19-man Test squad to tour South Africa and their 18-man T20 squad to go to New Zealand.
There were no surprises in Australia’s Test squad, and Josh Inglis was the only significant omission from the T20 unit.
With 37 Aussie cricketers involved in these two tours it’s strange Inglis won’t feature despite being the best gloveman in the country after Tim Paine and a blossoming strokemaker in both formats.
The upside is Inglis can continue his strokemaker development in the Sheffield Shield, where he’s made 354 runs at 118 this season.
Carey’s selection in the Test squad again confirms he’s seen as Paine’s successor when the Aussie skipper retires, likely in the next 18 months.
The South Australian has been deprived of regular first-class cricket due to his role in the ODI and T20 sides. Yet Carey has still managed to improve greatly as a red-ball batsman. In his past ten first-class matches Carey has piled up 751 runs at 58, including three tons.
While Inglis is an attractive option to succeed Paine, Carey’s selection to tour South Africa was not unjustified. Carey will, however, likely be a spectator for all three Tests against the Proteas along with the likes of reserve bowlers Mark Steketee, Sean Abbott and Mitchell Swepson.
Australia were right to resist the temptation of picking pace prodigy Jhye Richardson for this Test tour. The 24-year-old shapes as a potential pillar of Australia’s Test attack over the next decade, so he needs to be carefully managed. Having not played a first-class match in 14 months due to a shoulder issue, it would have been unwise to rush him back into the Test set-up.
In Pattinson and Michael Neser, Australia already have two fine pace options to complement the big three of Pat Cummins, Josh Hazlewood and Mitchell Starc. The latter, however, should not feature in the first Test against South Africa. Starc destabilised the Aussie attack with his wayward efforts in the final two Tests against India. The left-armer took 3-292 across those matches and was lacking rhythm, precision and pace.
When Starc falls apart like that he drags the attack down with him. He bleeds runs at such a rate that it makes it very difficult for his bowling colleagues to build any pressure. Australia cannot risk a repeat performance in the series opener against SA.
Pattinson is a safer bet if fully fit. As a natural strike bowler the Victorian’s also a good like-for-like replacement for Starc.
Neser too has a strong case to take Starc’s spot. The typically bowler-friendly pitches in SA would suit the accurate Queenslander, who gains consistent swing and seam movement. But in a Test as important as the opener against the Proteas, Australia would be wiser to bet on Pattinson’s experience than pick a debutant in Neser.
If there are any doubts about Pattinson’s fitness, then Neser should play ahead of Starc. Meanwhile, a lack of a strong spin alternative should save the spot of Nathan Lyon, who was even less effective than Starc against India.
The only reserve spinner touring South Africa, Swepson had a sensational start to this Shield season, with 23 wickets at 21. It remains to be seen whether Swepson has turned the corner as a red-ball spinner or if that was merely a three-match purple patch – in his previous two years of first-class cricket Swepson averaged 37. He has not yet done enough to unseat the 399-wicket veteran Lyon.
Australia’s Test top six, meanwhile, is straightforward – David Warner, Will Pucovski, Marnus Labuschagne, Steve Smith and Cameron Green are automatic picks. That leaves a choice between Head and Moises Henriques at No. 5. Averaging a shade under 40 in Tests, Head is unlucky to have been dropped twice in the space of Australia’s last ten matches.
Henriques is in fine first-class form, having averaged 51 with the blade over the past two Aussie summers. But that streak amounts to just 11 matches, and in Henriques’s 20 first-class matches previous to that he averaged just 30.
So Henriques has ordinary long-term form and turns 34 years old next week. Compared to Head, who owns a solid Test record and at 27 years old has time to become a plank of Australia’s middle order, the choice is fairly obvious.
I would argue it’s also obvious that, on the T20 tour of New Zealand, Australia need to persist with the five-bowler strategy that helped them spend a lot of time at number one on the T20 rankings over the past 18 months.
Ashton Agar and Jhye Richardson can give them decent depth at seven and eight in the batting order. That leaves Australia with a strong attack of three quality quicks – Richardson, Kane Richardson and Jason Behrendorff – and an elite spin combo in Adam Zampa and Ashton Agar, who are fourth and sixth respectively in the T20 bowler rankings.
Even without access to the 19 players on the Test tour of South Africa, Australia’s T20 line-up looks potent.
Australia’s best XI for the first Test in South Africa
Australia’s best T20 XI for the tour of New Zealand
Australia Test squad for three-Test series in South Africa
Tim Paine (captain), Pat Cummins (vice-captain), Sean Abbott, Alex Carey, Cameron Green, Marcus Harris, Josh Hazlewood, Travis Head, Moises Henriques, Marnus Labuschagne, Nathan Lyon, Michael Neser, James Pattinson, Will Pucovski, Steve Smith, Mitchell Starc, Mark Steketee, Mitchell Swepson, David Warner
Australia T20 squad for five-match series in New Zealand
Aaron Finch (captain), Matthew Wade (vice-captain), Ashton Agar, Jason Behrendorff, Mitchell Marsh, Glenn Maxwell, Ben McDermott, Riley Meredith, Josh Philippe, Jhye Richardson, Kane Richardson, Daniel Sams, Tanveer Sangha, D’Arcy Short, Marcus Stoinis, Ashton Turner, Andrew Tye, Adam Zampa.