Australia’s selectors have just announced their 17-man squad for the five Test Ashes series, reduced from their original squad of 25 probables. This is the 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, Steven Smith, Mitchell Starc, Matthew Wade, David Warner.
Most of the players named are as predicted, and the XI that are likely to play in the first test are the same as most people predicted:
Tim Paine (c)
James Pattinson/Josh Hazlewood
It’s a fairly predictable XI. To exclude Matthew Wade now would be some kind of insanity, given his form. Everyone who was expected to play is there.
The final spot is out of James Pattinson and Josh Hazlewood. Hazlewood is the incumbent while Pattinson is the returning great. A guy who, until six years ago, was Australia’s very best bowler, and he has a record that is better than any of Australia’s current top three. If he was to make it, it’d probably be at the expense of Hazlewood, who was unlucky to miss out in a World Cup call-up. There are rumours that Starc may make way, but, given that Starc was Australia’s premier bowler, and has just come back from breaking the all-time record for most wickets in a World Cup, it would seem silly to leave him out. World number one Pat Cummins isn’t likely to miss out either.
In many ways the other six in the squad don’t really matter, as they are all really just there in case someone is injured, someone loses form, or for some reason the pitch or conditions cause the selectors to change their mind.
The big worry is Usman Khawaja, who is carrying an injury. The bigger worry is that the spare batsman, the one who would replace him if Khawaja isn’t fit in time for the first test, is Cameron Bancroft.
Cameron Bancroft just top-scored in the warm-up match, but that doesn’t justify his selection in the 17. Kurtis Patterson was left out in spite of having a test batting average of 141.00. Bancroft averages barely 30. Joe Burns too scored a century in his last test, as did Patterson, yet he has made way.
There is a possibility that Marnus Labuschagne may play but he is seen mostly as an all-rounder, in spite of being the leading run-scorer in County Cricket this season.
Michael Neser is included, a nod to his current run of form with both bat and ball, providing a James Faulkner-like option as a bowling all-rounder. Curiously, he is there alongside Mitchell Marsh, yet it seems difficult to imagine them both playing in the same team.
The fact that three all-rounders are in the same squad suggests that Australia want to play at least one of them, but, with seven batsmen as well as them, they don’t need them.
Peter Siddle seems unlikely to play a test, but, if the rumours about Hazlewood and Starc both being out of form are true, there is a theoretical possibility that neither Hazlewood nor Starc will play in the first test. Or perhaps not in the second which could lead to Siddle playing. It seems unlikely, though.
The greatest worry, perhaps, is that Cameron Bancroft is in the side, and what kind of an effect that will have on the team.
I’ve long questioned the official story behind sandpaper gate, which makes the selection of Cameron Bancroft a dangerous one. Whatever story you believe, and whoever you think is to blame, it can’t be a healthy dressing room if Bancroft is in there with Warner and Smith.
We know that we are going to be sledged by England. We always get sledged by them – and we sledge them back when we are in Australia. The ground is going to be full to the brim with people with pictures of sandpaper, wearing masks and carrying banners and chanting. They are going to boo Smith and Warner, and, if Bancroft actually plays in any test, they are going to boo him much worse.
The players are going to get in on the act too. They will even if Bancroft doesn’t play, but if he does then it is going to be that much worse.
On form, Bancroft shouldn’t be in the squad. While his form is probably close to good enough to make the 25, the fact that he is keeping out Kurtis Patterson with a test batting average of 141 is a bit silly, not to mention that Joe Burns just scored a test century in his last test match. We also arguably should have included Alex Carey as well. Even Peter Handscomb was probably ahead of Bancroft.
So we’ve included Bancroft in the 25, which was probably the wrong choice, but it’s not terrible, but now we’ve included him in the 17, seemingly solely on the back of a score of 90-something in the warm-up match, when chasing, when the other side weren’t really bothering too much. Cheap runs. Runs that we shouldn’t be using as the basis for selection.
Warner has done the hard yards to get his way back into the side, as has Smith. Both of them are in supremely good form. Bancroft had it easy.
Bancroft shouldn’t be anywhere near this squad. If he plays in any of the test matches, we may as well give the urn away now.
Warner and Bancroft opening the innings is a nightmare for Australia, and a dream come true for England. If Warner gets out first and Smith comes out at 3, then Smith and Bancroft will in many ways be worse. We may as well be 3 for 0 before we’ve even started. It’s toxic beyond belief.
Waqar Younis and Wasim Akram used to play together in spite of allegedly hating each other’s guts, and they even opened the bowling together, but it’s a bit different for bowlers. Bowlers can take their anger out on batsmen. Batsmen can’t afford to be blind angry. That kind of situation is going to get you out, either caught or bowled or just plain runout because you aren’t listening to the calls properly.
Not to mention that, while Smith and Warner are probably the batting equivalents of Waqar and Wasim, Bancroft is not. Whether he one day becomes that good is a matter for speculation, but right now he is nowhere near that level.
Bancroft is a fringe player, someone who isn’t quite good enough for international level. While we do sometimes tolerate toxic players if they are superstars, we shouldn’t be tolerating someone that toxic when they are a fringe player.
Kurtis Patterson was a much better choice.