Bold move by the Aussie selectors!
Australia have made some bold decisions in their Test squad announced for the tour of UAE with as many as five newcomers in the side. The likes of Glenn Maxwell and Peter Handscomb, two of their supposedly best players of spin in the absence of Steven Smith, were left out while Aaron Finch, the ODI giant, and Peter Siddle were called up.
Newcomers to the Test setup include Travis Head, Marnus Labuschagne, Brendan Doggett, Aaron Finch and Michael Neser. With Pat Cummins and Josh Hazlewood injured and Warner, Smith serving bans, the selectors believed experience was sorely lacking and have recalled Peter Siddle to the setup while retaining the Marsh brothers, who have a great quotient with Justin Langer, the coach.
Australia squad: Tim Paine (capt, wk), 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
While the squad composition follows a predictable pattern with four seamers, three spinners and a genuine all-rounder, the choice of personnel is interesting particularly when viewed from a futuristic point of view.
Secure openers; decent back-ups
Matt Renshaw and Usman Khawaja are likely to open the innings on the spin-friendly UAE wickets. Renshaw had shown his tenacity at length during the Indian tour and is a perfect pick in the absence of Bancroft and Warner. Khawaja, whose improved fitness saw him move around better in the tour of India with the A team, should don the role of an experienced top-order bat.
Aaron Finch and Travis Head are available to slot in if needed at the top. While Finch is known to plunder spin in T20s, Test is a different ball game and it is a surprise that he has made it in ahead of some of the names in Shield cricket. Head, though, comes off the back of some promising performances and his off-spin should also come in handy should he find a place at the top or in the middle.
A Smith-less middle-order and some new names
With Smith out and Maxwell, Handscomb dropped, the middle-order is vulnerable against spin bowling and this is where Marnus Labuschagne, with his recent exploits in India, earns a spot. The right-hander has an average Shield record but recent form should see him slot in some place in the middle-order.
The Marsh brothers, at 3 and 6 in most likelihood, Tim Paine and one of Finch or Head should ideally complete the middle-order. Langer’s bonhomie with the Marsh brothers should favour Mitchell Marsh who is also backed by some decent form in recent times. Marsh should be the third seam bowling option in the side should be available to bowl at full tilt.
GOAT has some left-arm support
Australia are likely to play Victorian left-arm spinner Jon Holland alongside Nathan Lyon after his recent form for Australia A team. Holland, who last played in Sri Lanka in 2016, isn’t the sole choice for second spinner in the side with Ashton Agar retaining his place in the side.
Unless Aussies choose to go pace heavy, one of the two should figure alongside Lyon. Pakistan have a top-order stacked with right-handers and this should also favour Agar and Holland who turn it away from the right-handers.
Onus on pace continues in Langer era
An identity of Darren Lehmann-led Australian side was the onus on pace. Seamers who could not set the pace gun on fire were deemed surplus to requirements and this tradition seems to be continuing in the Langer era. Brendan Doggett, who has played just eight First-class games to date, has won a place in the side curiously at the expense of Jhye Richardson, who himself turns on the heat with the red cherry.
With Starc a certain in the XI if fit, and Peter Siddle, the workhorse, back in the setup, Australia are unlikely to venture into a third seamer particularly if Mitchell Marsh can contribute fully with the ball. If they do, Doggett and Michael Neser are available and the scale is likely to tilt in favour of the youngster for his ability to clock high speeds.
A strong squad? No. A squad with an eye into the future? No. One that can test Pakistan’s enviable UAE record? Unlikely.
Bold calls from the Australian selectors’ headline this squad selection but nothing about it seems right. Unless Langer can work his Perth magic in national colours, we are likely to see another squad overhaul before the Indian home series.