Australia Test squad (for first two Tests): Steven Smith (captain), David Warner (vice-captain), Usman Khawaja, Cameron Bancroft, Peter Handscomb, Shaun Marsh, Tim Paine (wk), Mitchell Starc, Patrick Cummins, Josh Hazlewood, Nathan Lyon, Jackson Bird, and Chadd Sayers
The Australian squad for the first and second Tests was announced exactly a week before the start of the 2017-18 Ashes series and the exclusion of two of the players and the inclusion of one have been met with clamour.
Glenn Maxwell is one of the high-profile names to miss out, though his exclusion has not entirely come out of left field. He had a forgettable limited-overs tour of India, making just 58 runs in three ODI matches and 17 runs in one T20 International innings. On each of those occasions, he undid himself in trying to hit Yuzvendra Chahal out of the attack, without respecting (and understanding) the match situation and this leg-spinner, who had been in good rhythm. We saw the classic Maxwell, who often lets his ego get the better of him, and with national selector Mark Waugh keeping a close eye from the stands, I suspected this 29-year-old right-hander potentially being axed from the national side for what was the forthcoming Ashes series. Though the formats are different, a reluctance to occupy the crease and reckless batting have led to the axe from the Test squad.
Maxwell, on his return to first-class and Sheffield Shield cricket, made 200 runs in six innings, including 60, 64 and 45* in three of those outings. But eventually, those knocks have proved insufficient to retain his place in the national Test squad; Maxwell had played each one of Australia’s last four Tests (two in India and the same number in Bangladesh). Also worth noting that Maxwell has played all seven Tests in his career in the sub-continent and the selectors probably feel he doesn’t have the personality to play Test matches on the hard, bouncy Australian pitches. Shaun Marsh is Maxwell’s replacement.
Matthew Renshaw, a left-handed opening batsman, has also been dropped, following a series of low scores (17, 16, 1, 19, 16, and 1) in the Sheffield Shield. His technique against spin and temperament had impressed us all during Australia’s Test tour of India 2017. A loss of form has led to dropping this 21-year-old. Cameron Bancroft is Renshaw’s replacement.
Matthew Wade’s ouster has been the more obvious, though Tim Paine’s inclusion has come as a surprise. Paine, who is now Wade’s Tasmanian team-mate, last played a Test match in 2010, also during Australia’s tour of India. On Paine’s selection, the chairman of selectors, Trevor Hohns, said, “With Tim, it’s been widely acknowledged for a small time now that he is the best gloveman in the country. Add that to the fact that he is our T20 wicketkeeper and performs very, very well there. His batting has been pretty good of late.”
Chadd Sayers, a South Australia seamer, is part of the 13-man squad for the first two Tests and is down the pecking order in terms of finding a place in the XI for the Brisbane Test match.
The probable Australia playing XI for the 1st Ashes Test:
- David Warner
- Cameron Bancroft (debut)
- Steven Smith (c)
- Usman Khawaja
- Peter Handscomb
- Shaun Marsh
- Tim Paine (wk)
- Mitchell Starc
- Patrick Cummins
- Josh Hazlewood
- Nathan Lyon
Compared to England, Australia’s XI is more straightforward and settled in most areas. Bancroft will obviously be a debutant who goes into his international debut on the back of an unbeaten 228 against South Australia.
Shaun Marsh is likely to be Australia’s No. 6 at the Gabba in Brisbane.
England Test squad vs Australia: Joe Root (captain), James Anderson (vice-captain), Alastair Cook, Mark Stoneman, James Vince, Dawid Malan, Jonny Bairstow (wk), Moeen Ali, Gary Ballance, Ben Stokes, Ben Foakes, George Garton, Craig Overton, Mason Crane, Stuart Broad, and Chris Woakes
For England, their batting line-up, in particular, lacks experience. In Alastair Cook, Joe Root, Jonny Bairstow, and Moeen Ali, the visitors boast not only reliable batsmen but also players with experience of having played Ashes Tests before.
But those in between this quartet lack experience and identity as Test players. Mark Stoneman (3), James Vince (7) and Dawid Malan (5) have played only 15 Tests between them and the jury is out on whether these three batsmen have the temperament to handle the high-pressure situations of an Ashes series. As for their nous of the conditions, they seem to be accustomed to them: Malan and Stoneman scored centuries in the third and England’s last tour match and they had made decent scores in the first couple of tour matches too. That said, the fast bowling troika of Starc, Hazlewood and Cummins will test the character of an English batting line-up which is not only short on experience but also has a couple of batsmen batting a position higher than they will in the presence of all-rounder Ben Stokes.
Their bowling attack for the first Test is likely to comprise four seamers and one spinner. You might say that a four-man pace attack will make England predictable. And they do have the option of integrating Mason Crane, a leg-spinner who hasn’t played a Test match yet, in the playing XI, instead of Craig Overton (right-arm medium-fast bowler) or Chris Woakes (right-arm fast-medium bowler), with James Anderson and Stuart Broad being the first-choice picks. But with the Brisbane pitch expected to be conducive to pace bowlers, the 6″5′ Overton and the deceptively quick Woakes will be more suitable than Crane. Woakes is a dependable lower-order batsman and provides depth to the English batting line-up.
The possible England playing XI for the 1st Ashes Test:
- Alastair Cook
- Mark Stoneman
- James Vince
- Joe Root (c)
- Dawid Malan
- Jonny Bairstow (wk)
- Moeen Ali
- Chris Woakes
- Stuart Broad
- James Anderson
- Craig Overton (debut)