Australia’s selectors have made radical changes to their squad for next month’s World T20 tournament, including the dumping of incumbent limited-overs ‘keeper Matthew Wade in favour of Test gloveman Peter Nevill, who has never played a white-ball match for his country.
AUSTRALIA'S WORLD T20 SQUAD: Steve Smith (c), David Warner (vc), Ashton Agar, Nathan Coulter-Nile, James Faulkner, Aaron Finch, John Hastings, Josh Hazlewood, Usman Khawaja, Mitchell Marsh, Glenn Maxwell, Peter Nevill, Andrew Tye, Shane Watson, Adam Zampa
Wade, who has been Australia’s preferred limited-overs keeper since Brad Haddin retired from the formats in the wake of last year’s World Cup success, has paid the price for some inconsistent glovework and a modest runs output (albeit from limited opportunities) with the bat of late.
While Nevill’s batting in 20-over cricket is scarcely dominant – he has averaged 15.75 with a highest score of 25 and a strike rate of barely a run-per-ball in the KFC Big Bash League – the quality of his wicketkeeping could prove vital on low, slow Indian pitches.
WATCH: Nevill plucks a great grab in Adelaide
As Australia attempts to secure the only major global cricket trophy that has managed to elude them.
"We feel our batting depth in this squad is sufficient enough that we can have a specialist wicket-keeper in the squad," said National Selector Rod Marsh.
"We want Australia’s best wicketkeeper playing in this tournament and we consider Peter Nevill to be the best in the country right now."
Other surprises in the 15-man squad named today include left-arm spinner Ashton Agar, who has not represented Australia at T20 level, as well as the axing of 10 of the 19 players who were trialled during the KFC T20 International Series that India won 3-0.
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And in a further departure from recent thinking, the selectors’ recommendation that Steve Smith be named captain for the biennial World T20 tournament in place of Aaron Finch (who is battling to recover from a hamstring injury) has been endorsed by Cricket Australia.
"Aaron Finch has done a very good job captaining Australia in T20 cricket," Marsh said.
"He will have benefited enormously from the leadership opportunity and will remain a highly-respected leader within the Australian squad.
"However since he became T20 captain, there has been a broader leadership transition in Test and one-day international cricket with Michael Clarke retiring and Steve Smith assuming the captaincy in Test and one-day cricket.
"We think now is the right time for Steve to lead Australia in all three forms of the game as it offers us important continuity, not only ahead of the World T20, but beyond that tournament as well."
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In addition to Nevill – who could not push past Wade into the Melbourne Renegades team in BBL|05 – and Agar the selectors have installed in-form batsman Usman Khawaja, allrounder Mitchell Marsh, newly-capped leg-spinner Adam Zampa, Test quick Josh Hazlewood and WA quick Nathan Coulter-Nile from outside last month’s T20 squad.
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Making way for them, having failed to impress during the three-match home series that was dominated by India’s batters, are experienced trio Shaun Marsh, Nathan Lyon and Shaun Tait, star BBL|05 pair Chris Lynn and Travis Head and seamers Kane Richardson and Scott Boland.
Lyon’s exclusion adds to the growing belief he is seen as a Test-match bowler only, having missed selection for the ODI matches in NZ, while Shaun Marsh is again squeezed out by circumstances having missed chances to push his claims in NZ when replaced in the starting XI by the red-hot Khawaja.
Despite starring in BBL|05, neither Lynn nor Head was able to mount an irresistible case for a World T20 berth with neither of them reaching 30 in their innings during the batting-dominated KFC T20 INTL series against India last month.
WATCH: Smith reflects on being named T20 captain
Richardson returned home early from the ODI component of the Qantas Tour of New Zealand due to back soreness over the weekend with doubts lingering about the severity of his injury, while Boland performed well as his replacement in the final two ODIs in NZ but went wicketless in the T20s against India.
It was expected he would make way for Hazelwood when the Test spearhead returned from a short break to refresh after a heavy summer workload.
Having indicated the paucity of T20 internationals played by Australia in the lead-up to the World T20 – they have contested just four in the past 15 months – meant they were still unclear as to the make-up of their best 20-over team, the selectors have taken clear note of ODI performances in NZ.
Which is why Khawaja and Zampa – who came into the ODI line-up for the last two matches of the Chappell-Hadlee campaign – secured their berths to India, and Mitchell Marsh was added after being initially excluded for the T20 component of the Australia summer.
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The selection of spin-bowling allrounder Agar – who made his white-ball debut for Australia in the ODIs that followed last year’s Ashes campaign but has not yet played a T20 at international level – suggests the Australians are looking to their seam bowling strength on subcontinental pitches.
That’s because the World T20 spin duties will be shared by Agar and fellow allrounder Glenn Maxwell, while the only specialist wrist spinner in the squad (Zampa) has played just two 50-over matches in Australia colours.
By contrast, the seam-bowling options are plentiful with Hazlewood and John Hastings likely to share the new-ball and Perth Scorchers quick Andrew Tye (who made his Australia debut in the T20 series against India) also filling the role of specialist quick.
Behind them is a clutch of allrounders – Shane Watson, James Faulkner and Marsh – whose value in Indian conditions was reflected in the substantial IPL deals that Watson and Marsh landed in last Saturday’s player auction.
Coulter-Nile also combines a pace-bowling option with some hefty lower-order hitting, even though he has not played any competitive cricket since dislocating his shoulder in a fielding mishap in a BBL match shortly before Christmas.
WATCH: Coulter-Nile injured at The Furnace
However, the selectors had already showed their faith in the WA allrounder earlier in the summer when he was added to the Test squad despite not having played a first-class since the previous Australian season.
Coulter-Nile (shoulder), Faulkner (hamstring) and Finch (hamstring) have all been selected subject to fitness.
"Aaron, Nathan and James are all very important players and we want them with to be a part of this World T20 campaign," Marsh said.
"We are hopeful that they will be able to take part in some form of competitive cricket before leaving for South Africa.
"However, we will be guided by medical advice and an update on their fitness will be provided closer to the time of departure."