Australia’s batting order for next week’s first Ashes Test remains in a state of flux after the naming of a 17-man squad in which potential Test debutant Michael Neser was a bowling bolter.
Alex Carey, Australia’s gloveman and vice-captain at the World Cup, and left-arm tweaker Jon Holland were notable absentees in the touring party named on Friday after an intra-squad selection showdown in Southampton.
Selectors, keen to beef up their pace depth in a five-Test series that is being squeezed into six weeks, opted for a battery of Neser, Peter Siddle, James Pattinson, Josh Hazlewood, Mitchell Starc and Pat Cummins.
Former keeper Matthew Wade has been recalled and is in the box seat to play as a batsman at No.6 in the Edgbaston series opener that starts on Thursday, which would be his first Test in almost two years.
Mitch Marsh or Marnus Labuschagne, both included in the squad as allrounders, could yet tip Wade out of the XI.
Cameron Bancroft demanded a recall with this week’s stoic match-winning knock of 93 not out at the Rose Bowl on what captain Tim Paine dubbed a borderline “dangerous” pitch.
Bancroft and Marcus Harris are both in the mix to partner David Warner at the top of the order while it’s possible all three openers could be picked in the side, especially if Usman Khawaja is unable to prove his fitness.
“It has been for some time,” chairman of selectors Trevor Hohns admitted, when asked if the top six remained unsettled.
“I can’t tell you what it will be right now because we haven’t discussed it.
“There’s conjecture as to who David Warner’s opening partner will be then the middle order, we’ll make a judgment call when we get to Birmingham.”
Incumbents Joe Burns and Kurtis Patterson, having both celebrated centuries during Australia’s previous Test, were axed in the selection squeeze created by the Cape Town trio’s return.
“Try to improve your game and belt the door down. We can’t say much more to them,” Hohns said.
Neser, who played two ODIs for Australia last year in England, thoroughly impressed selectors during this month’s Australia A tour then set the tone for this week’s low-scoring scrap by blasting out Warner and Harris in a haul of 4-18.
“He swings the ball, he uses the Dukes ball in particular very well,” Hohns said.
“We thought we needed the extra fast bowler.”
Neser’s inclusion means that Labuschagne will be guaranteed selection on any spin-friendly decks while the tourists will be forced to go with a four-prong pace attack should Nathan Lyon suffer a last-minute injury before any Test.
“We kept asking ourselves ‘are we really going to play two spinners over here in England?’ and we came up with the answer ‘probably no’,” Hohns said.
“If anything happens to him (Lyon) long term, we have the option of bringing someone else in.”
Hohns added Wade “fully deserves his recall”.
Australia’s 17-man Ashes squad: David Warner, Marcus Harris, Cameron Bancroft, Usman Khawaja, Steve Smith, Travis Head, Matthew Wade, Marnus Labuschagne, Mitch Marsh, Tim Paine (capt), Pat Cummins, Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood, James Pattinson, Peter Siddle, Michael Neser, Nathan Lyon.