Australian captain Pat Cummins has finally revealed the full team for the first Test at the Gabba, with Mitchell Starc retaining his place in the bowling attack and Travis Head officially given the nod over Usman Khawaja at number five in the batting order.
After weeks of speculation, Starc holds his spot despite plenty of conjecture, most of it driven by Australian great Shane Warne, that he should be replaced by Jhye Richardson after a lean 2020-21 summer against India.
Head, who lost his spot in the middle order in that very series, has returned to the team after a dominant start to the domestic summer, including a Marsh Cup double-century and two further tons in the Sheffield Shield.
Wicketkeeper Alex Carey had already been confirmed for his Test debut, replacing former captain Tim Paine behind the stumps; while Marcus Harris’ opening spot alongside David Warner was the only other spot in any jeopardy heading into the summer.
Speaking to media on Sunday, new captain Cummins made no secret of how difficult the decision was to choose between Head and Khawaja to bat at five at the Gabba, calling it ‘a tight one’.
“[They’re] both really good options, really strong form,” Cummins said.
“Experience is great from ‘Uzzie’ and we feel really lucky to have that in the squad, but Trav’s been playing a lot for us the last couple of years.
“He’s gone away and he’s churned out runs in England, here in Australia, and we feel like he’s really ready to go.”
Starc, meanwhile, survives despite calls for the left-arm quick to be replaced by the in-form Jhye Richardson. In a further boost, he is expected to once again take the new ball with Josh Hazlewood, with Cummins saying he ‘probably won’t’ be elevating himself up the bowling order despite being in charge.
However, England are yet to name their own XI for the first Test, which starts on Wednesday. Captain Joe Root said the make-up of the bowling attack is still uncertain just days out, with the Poms weighing up whether to play a four-seamer attack or include spinner Jack Leach.
“We’ve got all the options on the table… we’re not going to name a team just yet,” Root said.
“We’ll have to see the closer forecast and how that pitch changes over the next couple of days.
“It’s a great place to play spin. It’s something we’ll weigh up and consider, but we’re not in a position to make that call right now.”
Australian XI for first Ashes Test
1. David Warner
2. Marcus Harris
3. Marnus Labuschagne
4. Steve Smith
5. Travis Head
6. Cameron Green
7. Alex Carey (wk)*
8. Pat Cummins (c)
9. Mitchell Starc
10. Nathan Lyon
11. Josh Hazlewood
* on debut