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First Test team announced: Australia spring a surprise with leadership change - 'trying to give opportunities to others'

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13th December, 2023
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Australia have sprung a surprise by naming Travis Head as a Test vice-captain for the Pakistan series but have stuck by the expected XI for the opening match in Perth on Thursday.

Head had previously held the deputy’s role under previous skipper Tim Paine and his reinstatement to vice-captaincy duties shows he is next in line to fast bowler Pat Cummins in the long-term leadership picture.

Steve Smith will continue as a vice-captain but at 34, he is unlikely to ever lead Australia again on a full-time basis. 

The only change to the team for the Optus Stadium showdown with Pakistan from the one which finished off the Ashes series in England is the return of veteran spinner Nathan Lyon from his calf injury for Todd Murphy, who was not included in the 14-man squad.

Fast bowler Mitchell Starc has been cleared to play after he was dogged by niggling after the World Cup, meaning young Western Australian pace prospect Lance Morris will again have to bide his time.

Fellow quick Scott Boland and all-rounder Cameron Green are the other omissions with Mitchell Marsh retaining the No.6 spot.

Veteran opener David Warner will open alongside Usman Khawaja as he tries to finish his Test career on a high note leading into the final match of the series at his home ground, the SCG.

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Since he made 152 against England upon his return in December 2021, Head hasn’t looked back.

Head, who turns 30 on December 29, could still be at the peak of his powers in a few years if and when Cummins stands down.

“Whilst nothing’s imminent, Steve’s not going to play forever, I dare say I’m not going to captain forever,” Cummins said.

“So we feel like we’ve got some responsibility to future-proof the team and start trying to give opportunities to other leaders. It doesn’t guarantee anything, but you know we’re giving him (Head) a good opportunity. 

“So when you look through candidates for future captains of course he’s going to be right up there.

“I know in my last couple of years before I became captain being in some of those conversations as a vice-captain really helped fast track my readiness. So down the track it might be Trav, it might be someone else, but we want to make sure they’re as prepared as they can be.”

LEEDS, ENGLAND - JULY 08: Travis Head of Australia hits the ball up in the sky to be caught out by Ben Duckett of England during Day Three of the LV= Insurance Ashes 3rd Test Match between England and Australia at Headingley on July 08, 2023 in Leeds, England. (Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)

(Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)

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Head was named captain of South Australia at 21, making him the Redbacks’ youngest ever first-class skipper.

Cummins was glowing when speaking about Head’s leadership traits.

“I just think the personality that he brings to the team is something that we all love,” Cummins said. “And I think you see it in the way he plays his cricket, there’s a certain amount of freedom to it. 

“He takes the game on and he enjoys it. He’s always got a smile on his face. He never takes anything too seriously. He’s great at bringing the team together for team morale and putting his arm around players that need it. 

“Sometimes you can mistake that for someone who’s not a deep thinker about the game. But I think tactically he’s excellent. 

“So he’s got all the makings of a really strong leader like we’ve seen him do for South Australia for quite a few years.”

Australia XI: David Warner, Usman Khawaja, Marnus Labuschagne, Steve Smith, Travis Head, Mitch Marsh, Alex Carey, Mitchell Starc, Pat Cummins (c), Nathan Lyon, Josh Hazlewood.

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