MELBOURNE – After a feel-good two match drubbing of a hapless Sri Lankan team, Australia’s test cricket team has already shifted its focus to a far greater challenge – The Ashes, which starts on 1 August later this year.
While the Australian summer produced mixed results, a 2-1 loss to India and a 2-0 win over Sri Lanka, on the other side of the globe the English cricket team has also had its fair share of struggles. In the current three-match series against the West Indies, ranked 8th in the world, the Poms have been humiliated in the first two encounters, losing by margins of 381 runs and 10 wickets respectively. Clearly, their Ashes plans are also far from decided.
Back home, with the year-long suspensions of David Warner and Steve Smith set to end soon, the anticipated return of the veterans and former leaders leaves the Australian selectors with a pleasant problem to have – who makes way for their pending inclusions? The makeup of the starting eleven for the 1st Test continues to divide opinion, and just as divisive is the final compilation of the (likely) 17-man strong touring squad – 17 being the number of men the tourists usually take to England.
Considering all of the the evidence in front of me, I’m going with the following:
1st Test Match Team
Tim Paine (c)
Baring injury or a severe lack of form, to me the starting eleven seems fairly straight forward. Despite the below-average opposition, four batsmen made centuries in the last match and ought to be rewarded with first opportunity in England. That leaves just two remaining spots – one opening batsman and a number four. These should be filled by the returning duo of Warner and Smith. While some may say that’s harsh on Marcus Harris and Marnus Labuschagne, each of these two had plenty of opportunities to cement their spots this summer, with Harris averaging just 32.70 in 11 innings and Labuschagne averaging just 26.25 in eight. Neither returns are enough to demand selection in the Australian team. Labuschange especially shouldn’t be considered until he’s proven himself to be a consistent performer at Sheffield Shield level, averaging just over 33 in 46 games of first class cricket. The remaining batsmen in the squad should be Harris and Pucovski, while Matthew Wade earns a recall for multiple summers of strong returns. He also serves as a back-up wicket keeping option should captain Tim Paine succumb to injury. Glenn Maxwell needs to be added to the squad too, not only for his strong domestic returns, but also due to the flexibility he brings. A strong middle order batsman and freakish fielder, he’d also be a second spin bowling option, filling the void left by Labuschagne.
On the bowling front, Josh Hazelwood returns in place for Jhye Richardson who impressed against Sri Lanka. That success sees Richardson book himself a ticket on tour, however he remains a class behind the frightening trio of Cummins, Starc, and Hazelwood. Nathan Lyon remains the best spin bowling option not only in the country but one of the best in the world and rounds out the eleven. The final spot in the touring squad is Chris Tremain who needs to be rewarded for yet another strong domestic campaign. Tremain, now 27-years-old, is sharp, accurate, and can move the ball both ways. He has a wonderful first class bowling average of 23.68 through 52 games (204 wickets) and his 2018/19 summer has seen him collect 28 wickets at 23.60 apiece, including three five-wicket hauls in six games. When he’s on, he’s as tough as any other Australian quicks to face and the seeming English conditions would suit him well.
What are your thoughts – who gets selected and who doesn’t?