Australia’s Test selectors are likely to stick with largely familiar faces, despite Australia’s inauspicious recent Test record, when they name the side the first Ashes Test starting next week in Brisbane.
In fact the side has had a settled feel for more than a fortnight, ever since chairman of selectors John Inverarity anointed Tasmanian George Bailey as the next cab off the batting rank before the first round of Sheffield Shield matches.
The other likely ‘new face’ is that of Mitchell Johnson, who, despite having played 51 Tests and taken more than 200 Test wickets, has never really cemented his place in the Australian side.
Shane Watson also seems likely to be selected, despite the doubts over his fitness. If he plays as a specialist batsman, his credentials – an average of 36 from 46 Tests – do not exactly inspire confidence. All-rounder James Faulker, who played in the final Test in England, or specialist batsman Alex Doolan, loom as likely cover for Watson should he not be able to take the field.
A choice looms between Ben Cutting, Ben Hilfenhaus and Chadd Sayers for the fourth seamer spot, although off-spinner Nathan Lyon is likely to play ahead of them.
Australia has not won for nine Tests, but captain Michael Clarke was adamant yesterday that Australian cricket was in good shape and the team virtually picked itself.
“We are in a good place,” he said. “If they are going to pick 12 players…11 are no brainers.”
This is in stark contrast to Australia’s preparation for the start of the series in England, when coach Mickey Arthur was sacked just 18 days out from the first Test and opening batsman David Warner was suspended for ill discipline.
“I think there is no doubt there is more stability in our teams whether that’s the one-day team, the Twenty20 team or the Test team,” Clarke said at the launch of his Ashes Diary at the SCG.
“I would imagine the majority of the places (in the Test team) have been picked for themselves.
“The exciting thing about where we are at right now, whether it be batters or bowlers, individual players have stepped up and performed.
“Whether it be in the one-day format in India, the Ryobi Cup or the Sheffield Shield, the players have picked themselves which is a really impressive thing for our team.
“And it is what (coach) Darren Lehmann and myself asked the guys to do: go back to state cricket and take wickets and score runs to be in the front of the selectors minds.”
He was particularly upbeat about David Warner’s start to the summer after being left out of the one-day side that toured India. “He is as fit and strong as I have seen him,” said Clarke. “And what more can he do? He has scored four hundreds.”
In contrast England do not appear as settled as they did ahead of their home series, with their batting order facing a likely reshuffle, Kevin Pietersen battling a knee injury, wicketkeeper Matt Prior ruled out of the side’s final tune-up, and doubt over who will be their third seamer.
However Clarke claimed he hadn’t been paying attention to England’s lead up as they prepare to chase a record fourth successive Ashes series win.
“To be honest I’m not concerned about England’s team,” he said.
“I’m really excited about where we sit as a team. I haven’t looked at England at all. I haven’t watched a ball they have bowled on this tour so far.
“I’ve been focused on performing for NSW firstly and talking to all my teammates, making sure they are all fully fit and feeling good about the summer and now we will start to make sure our minds are ready for the first Test.