Vodafone Men's Ashes
Selectors eyeing present and future with Aus A picks
National selection chair George Bailey discusses next month's internal three-day practice match and takes a closer look at some of those chosen
17 November 2021, 06:04 PM AEST
National selection chair George Bailey has quashed suggestions an upcoming internal practice game might yield last-minute revisions of the Ashes squad, with Test vice-captain Pat Cummins warning pundits not to "look too much" into the three-day training exercise.
In addition to the 15-man Test squad unveiled today, selectors named 11 members of an Australia A team that will help the Ashes aspirants prepare for the first Test at the Gabba starting December 8 and then begin their own four-day fixture against England Lions a day later.
Australia's Ashes squad: Tim Paine (c), Pat Cummins (vc), Cameron Green, Josh Hazlewood, Marcus Harris, Travis Head, Usman Khawaja, Marnus Labuschagne, Nathan Lyon, Michael Neser, Jhye Richardson, Steve Smith, Mitchell Starc, Mitchell Swepson, David Warner
Australia A players: Sean Abbott, Ashton Agar, Scott Boland, Alex Carey, Henry Hunt, Josh Inglis, Nic Maddinson, Mitchell Marsh, Matt Renshaw, Mark Steketee, Bryce Street
With so many of the nation's foremost first-class players heading to Queensland in coming weeks, speculation was rife the three-day practice "opportunity" would mirror the highly-competitive intra-squad match that decided final places in Australia's 2019 Ashes touring party in the UK.
But Bailey confirmed today not only was playing personnel for the first two Vodafone Ashes Tests "locked in", fellow selector Justin Langer and his men's team coaching assistants were yet to decide on the format the three days of centre-wicket work at Redlands in Brisbane would adopt.
"I don't envisage that game being used as a selection tool," Bailey said today. "I think it's very much about preparation and to be honest, we haven't even landed on what the make-up of teams will be or how that will be structured yet.
"We'll put a lot of trust in the coaching staff about how they want to structure that game to ensure we get the best preparation for a large number of players."
Cummins, who like the other members of Australia's first-choice pace attack Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazlewood has not played a first-class game since last summer, said the Test bowling group would work out over the coming fortnight what they're hoping to get out of that three-day venture.
"I think there might be a bit of rain about, so we might end up bowling a little bit more in the game if need be," Cummins said today. "But it's a pretty relaxed game from our point of view.
"We'll be working back from that day one of the Gabba Test to work out exactly what we need, and I wouldn't look into that game too much."
Bailey confirmed the Australia A squad, which will likely be supplemented for the England Lions game by members of the Test squad who don't make the starting XI at the Gabba, served multiple purposes.
Not only were the players named in that line-up crucial to the Ashes preparation and confirmed as next-in-line should openings appear throughout the summer, they also provide a snapshot of who the selectors view as potential Test regulars of the not-so-distant future.
In addition to wicketkeeper Alex Carey, allrounder Sean Abbott and fast bowler Mark Steketee who were already earmarked for higher honours when named in Australia's squad for the postponed South Africa tour earlier this year, the Australia A list includes previous Test caps Matthew Renshaw, Mitchell Marsh, Nic Maddinson and Ashton Agar.
Renshaw's recall comes after the 25-year-old took a lengthy break from cricket in early 2020 as he battled mental fatigue, and returned to Queensland's Marsh Sheffield Shield team at the start of last summer as a middle-order batter rather than in the role of opener where he played in his 11 Tests to date.
In that new guise, he has averaged almost 56 from his 16 innings and earned plaudits from both Bailey and former Australia Test captain Steve Waugh, who suggested the left-hander should resume his role as opener given he boasted an ideal technique to counter England's swing bowlers.
"I don't know why he is batting in the lower order because he did a great job for Australia opening," Waugh said at the opening of his 'Spirit of Cricket – India' photographic exhibition in Sydney today.
"I thought he made an amazing Test debut (in 2016) under lights in Adelaide in difficult conditions. He scored slowly but survived.
"He hasn't got the credits he deserves while playing.
"I wouldn't rule him out."
While Bailey has effectively ruled him out from the first two Tests – including the pink ball day-night match in Adelaide – he confirmed Renshaw's selection was partly due to his batting strength against spin bowling, with an eye to Australia's scheduled Test tours to Pakistan and Sri Lanka next year.
"We're big fans of 'Renners'," Bailey said of the selection panel which also includes men's team coach Langer and Tony Dodemaide. "He's a talented, talented cricket player.
"I think he's worked his way really nicely into the start of this season, he looks really at home in that number five role and he's an excellent player of spin.
"We're very aware there's tours coming up to Pakistan and Sri Lanka, so great to see him performing well and looking forward to him getting an opportunity in that Australia A game."
Bailey also told The Unplayable Podcast that Renshaw's century against Tasmania last month – where he came to the crease late on the opening day, saw off the new ball and then went on the attack the following day – was "a great blueprint" of how a number five batter should play.
It was with a similarly longer-term view that uncapped opening pair Henry Hunt (South Australia) and Bryce Street (Queensland) were included for their maiden Australia A appearances.
Bailey said a reason why he hoped Marcus Harris could grasp his latest Test opportunity and forge a solid union with his opening partner David Warner was because the selectors keenly understood the value of strong first-wicket pairings in any successful Test outfit.
For that reason, they are also hoping the union of 23-year-olds Hunt and Street against England Lions represents the start of a solid relationship that will benefit future Australia teams.
"I think Henry's form over the last couple of weeks has been fantastic, but in many respects it's backed up what we've been seeing from him," Bailey said of the Redbacks opener.
"He's well organised, his game's in really good order, he's got a lot of fight in the way he goes about it, he's determined and he's a gun fielder.
"From a lot of chats with South Australia, he's a good kid and very professional in the way he goes about it, so excited to see him get the challenge of stepping that game up against a strong opposition, and 'Streety' is much the same.
"For a young guy, Streety is bloody difficult to dismiss and that's a great trait as an opening batsman.
"And the flow-on benefits of how hard it is to get him out is that his teammates are often the beneficiaries of his hard work, so we love the determination, we love the grit he brings.
"Those guys being able to forge a strong partnership together is so important for your Test team, so we're looking forward to seeing both of them step up and get an opportunity."
While Marsh was touted as a potential surprise recall to the Test berth he last held in 2019 on the basis of his heroics at the recent T20 World Cup, Bailey reiterated his belief the two formats were poles apart and urged caution about assuming performances in one would automatically flow to the other.
However, he admitted to being excited by the prospect of the 30-year-old bringing the sort of performances he unleashed in the World Cup triumph to the Test arena where he has appeared 32 times.
"I'm just so excited about his next number of years," Bailey said. "Hopefully with injury concerns behind him and the age he is, I think we should be seeing the best of Mitchell Marsh for the coming years.
"We know he can play at the Test level, and hopefully some of those performances will be in all three formats."
The only member of the 19-man South Africa squad from earlier this year who was available for selection but not included in either the Test or Australia A squads was allrounder Moises Henriques, who is yet to play this summer due to quarantine restrictions after the Indian Premier League.
Henriques will make his first appearance of 2021-22 for New South Wales in their upcoming Shield game against Victoria at the SCG, but the fact he had not played a game before Sydney-based players were forced to travel to Brisbane for pre-Test quarantine requirements meant he could not be considered.
However, Bailey noted the 34-year-old's hopes of adding to the four Tests he played between 2013 and 2016 were not dashed because he was a proven performer at international level and that would hold him in good stead should a sudden vacancy arise in the national team.
"It's just unfortunate we haven't been able to see him play any cricket up until this point, and knowing the Victorians and New South Welshmen have had to join that quarantine bubble (in Queensland)," Bailey said.
"I've been in good contact with Mo (Henriques) and he knows that not being here, certainly as part of the A squad, is not necessarily the end for him.
"We know he's a quality player and he's been particularly consistent, but I guess it's a slight difference of our Ashes focus of trying to win the here and now versus the balance of the Australia A game.
"The Australia A mantra is we're very much about wanting to make sure we've got the next-best for Australia, and part of that is having the next-best for tomorrow but also the next-best for the medium to long-term as well."
Vodafone Men's Ashes v England
Nov 23-25: England v England Lions, Brisbane
Nov 30 – Dec 3: England v England Lions, Brisbane
Dec 1-3: Australian intra-squad match, Brisbane
Dec 9-12: Australia A v England Lions, Brisbane
First Test: December 8-12, The Gabba
Second Test: December 16-20, Adelaide Oval
Third Test: December 26-30, MCG
Fourth Test: January 5-9, SCG
Fifth Test: January 14-18, Perth Stadium