Langer locks in Khawaja, Pattinson for Ashes opener
Coach confirms left-handed batter fit to take his spot at No.3 while James Pattinson will make his Test return barring a late mishap
Sam Ferris in Birmingham
30 July 2019, 11:00 PM AEST
Australia coach Justin Langer says Usman Khawaja and James Pattinson are set to play in the Ashes opener as the selectors prepare to make several crunch decisions in Birmingham.
Langer confirmed Khawaja passed a fitness test on his hamstring on Monday and will bat at No.3 in the first Ashes Test at Edgbaston starting Thursday, while only a last-minute setback will prevent Pattinson from playing in his first Test since February 2016.
"Usman Khawaja will definitely be in," Langer told reporters in Birmingham.
"He's fit, ready to go, he's playing well.
"He's a seasoned pro for us, he averages 40-odd in Test cricket, his hammy (hamstring) is good, he's running well, he's passed all the fitness tests so he's ready to go. He'll bat No.3."
Commenting on Pattinson, Langer said: "It's a great story isn't it, coming back from where he was as a young bowler, the back surgeries, to more than likely being selected for this Test match, it's a great story."
While those two pieces of the selection puzzle have been locked in, Langer and his fellow national selectors – Trevor Hohns and Greg Chappell – now must fill in the rest of the gaps.
David Warner, who Langer says is "fine" after copping a nasty blow above his left knee in the nets on Monday afternoon, Steve Smith, captain Tim Paine, Pat Cummins, Nathan Lyon and now Khawaja and Pattinson appear the certainties in the XI to take on England.
Langer says deciding who will open the batting with Warner and the third specialist fast bowler are at the forefront of the selection panel's minds.
Marcus Harris is the incumbent Test opener, Australia's leading run-scorer against world No.1 India last summer and posted a century against Sussex on the Australia A tour two games ago.
Cameron Bancroft was Australia's Test opener before he was suspended, has been in solid form for Durham in Division Two of the County Championship and scored a match-winning 93 not out on a challenging pitch in last week's intra-squad clash in Southampton.
Steve Waugh "has never seen anything like" Cam Bancroft's short leg fielding 😮 #Ashes pic.twitter.com/8IXYMPYiWt— cricket.com.au (@cricketcomau) July 30, 2019
As for the third quick, it is hard to split Josh Hazlewood, Mitch Starc and Peter Siddle.
Hazlewood is finding his groove after returning from a back injury he suffered in January, Starc continues to adjust to the red Dukes ball after finishing the World Cup as the leading wicket-taker for the second-straight tournament, while Siddle is purring along with plenty of wickets and match experience in English conditions this season under his belt.
"Like in all these selections, there's literally a case for 17 blokes to play," Langer said.
"The opening partnership's going to be really tough, between Cameron (Bancroft) and Marcus Harris, really hard.
"They've both got a really strong case, and then the fast bowling spots.
"There's probably three to be fair, (Mitch Starc), Peter Siddle and Josh Hazlewood for one spot.
"Three pretty good players to try to find a spot for, I reckon."
Whoever of the pace trio misses out, they will likely get a game throughout the campaign as the selectors look to assemble a fast bowling attack to suit each specific venue.
But do not mistake the chopping and changing as rotation, says Langer.
"They (the fast bowlers) won't be rotated as such," he said.
"Like in the World Cup we'll pick the best three or four for every game we play.
"Lord's is very different to here (Edgbaston), Old Trafford's going to be different, so that's how.
"We won't rotate them per se, but we'll just pick the best three, probably not four, but three for every game.
"It won't be different opposition, certainly different conditions."
The selectors also have to settle on a middle order, with incumbent No.6 Kurtis Patterson missing selection in the Ashes squad.
Tasmania's Matt Wade and Queenslander Marnus Labuschagne appear to be the main contenders, but Langer did not rule out allrounder Mitch Marsh making his Test return.
"Time will tell," Langer said with a wry grin.
2019 Qantas Ashes Tour of England
Australia squad: Tim Paine (c), Cameron Bancroft, Pat Cummins, Marcus Harris, Josh Hazlewood, Travis Head, Usman Khawaja, Marnus Labuschagne, Nathan Lyon, Mitchell Marsh, Michael Neser, James Pattinson, Peter Siddle, Steve Smith, Mitchell Starc, Matthew Wade, David Warner.
England squad: Joe Root (c), Moeen Ali, Jimmy Anderson, Jofra Archer, Jonny Bairstow, Stuart Broad, Rory Burns, Jos Buttler, Sam Curran, Joe Denly, Jason Roy, Ben Stokes (vc), Olly Stone, Chris Woakes.
Tour match: Australians v Worcestershire, August 7-9
Second Test: August 14-18,Lord's
Third Test: August 22-26, Headingley
Tour match: Australians v Derbyshire, August 29-31
Fourth Test: September 4-8, Old Trafford
Fifth Test: September 12-16, The Oval