SYDNEY – Australia ushered in a fresh era Tuesday by including five uncapped players in its first Test squad since the scandal-plagued tour of South Africa early this year, while recalling veteran Peter Siddle.
With the disgraced Steve Smith, David Warner and Cameron Bancroft all suspended for their roles in the ball-tampering row that sparked one of the worst crises cricket has faced in recent times, selectors had slim pickings.
Also missing for the two-Test series against Pakistan in the United Arab Emirates next month are injured fast bowlers Josh Hazlewood and Pat Cummins, leaving Australia with one of its weakest Test squads in years.
Among the five debutants are Queensland trio Michael Neser, Brendan Doggett and Marnus Labuschagne, South Australia's Travis Head and Victoria's Aaron Finch.
“There has been significant change to our Test squad, due to the unavailability of a number of key players,” said selector Trevor Hohns.
“That said, we firmly believe the squad selected is up to the challenge ahead, and is capable of playing a brand of cricket that can perform well in this series against Pakistan.
“It's a blend of experienced players who have a significant amount of either Test or first-class cricket, and a number of younger players who we are confident are ready for the Test arena.”
Three top-order spots were left vacant by Smith, Warner and Bancroft's absence. Opener Matt Renshaw, who was dumped ahead of the Ashes late last year but returned for the final Test in South Africa, fills one of them after a standout Sheffield Shield season.
Art of concentration
The aggressive Finch, better known for his exploits in the shorter form of the game, was also included and is tipped to open the batting with Renshaw.
Coach Justin Langer said Finch was a natural leader and deserved the chance to prove his credentials at Test level.
“He's one of the core leaders of the group and I know he's waited a long time to be in the squad. Hopefully like a Mike Hussey or a Brad Hodge or a George Bailey, he can have an impact on Test cricket as well,” he said.
In a relief for selectors, the experienced Shaun Marsh was declared fit after recovering from a shoulder injury that forced him to return home in July from a county cricket stint with Glamorgan.
A slimmed-down Usman Khawaja, all-rounder Mitch Marsh and either Head or Labuschagne should fill out the middle-order ranks.
Peter Handscomb missed out after poor form on the current Australia A tour of India, and batting all-rounder Glenn Maxwell was a surprise omission, given his handy off-spin option.
Langer said Maxwell needed to notch more big scores regularly to be in contention.
“I'd love to see Maxy score more hundreds and we've talked a lot together about the art of concentration and watching the ball like a hawk,” he said.
“If he does that more regularly, he will make more hundreds and be much more pickable for Test cricket.”
Veteran Mitchell Starc will spearhead the bowling attack with either Neser or Doggett his potential new-ball partner.
And there was a recall after two years for workhorse quick Siddle on the back of his red-hot form in England this year with Essex.
“His experience will be crucial for this bowling group, and we know that he is a warrior who can bowl the type of long, tight spells which may be required in the conditions we expect to face,” Hohns said of the 62-Test veteran.
Nathan Lyon, Jon Holland and left-armer Ashton Agar occupy the spin slots with captain Tim Paine behind the wicket.
The first Test is in Dubai from October 7 with the second in Abu Dhabi from October 16.
The Australia squad is:
Tim Paine (capt), Ashton Agar, Brendan Doggett, Aaron Finch, Travis Head, Jon Holland, Usman Khawaja, Marnus Labuschagne, Nathan Lyon, Mitchell Marsh, Shaun Marsh, Michael Neser, Matthew Renshaw, Peter Siddle, Mitchell Starc
Agence France-Presse (AFP)