Australia play their first tour game (!) of the Ashes in between the First and Second tests, itself somewhat unfair, making Australia’s First test win all the more remarkable. Sure, we had an intra-squad game to decide who our final 17 was, and it was even used to decide to pick Cameron Bancroft ahead of more qualified compatriots, but that doesn’t really count. The four day game against Worcestershire does count, and we have a number of things to consider.
Cameron Bancroft almost certainly won’t play at Lords. He was a massive hunch to play in the First Test with selectors split as to whether to pick him or Harris. All of the people who supported him now look very stupid as he not only got two low scores but he looked horrible doing it, and he undoubtedly influenced the surprisingly low scores from World Cup and IPL hero David Warner. He is thus a liability both for his own poor form and for his influence on others, or at least on Warner. We didn’t see what it’d be like if he batted with Steve Smith and it’s not a risk we are likely to want to take.
The decision for who to replace Bancroft with isn’t completely obvious. While Marcus Harris is the only specialist opener in the squad, Usman Khawaja does prefer to open the batting and, with his form at number three being dubious, consideration may be given to putting Khawaja in to open with Warner and playing someone else, probably Marnus Labuschagne, at number three. Labuschagne, remember, has the most runs in County Cricket this season and is in supreme form, probably only second behind Matthew Wade for domestic form.
There is also a thought to drop Khawaja entirely, though that seems unlikely. Khawaja has struggled with injury leading up to the Ashes and may not be fully fit. He has also struggled for concentration ever since his brother was arrested on terrorism-related charges last year (his brother falsely accused someone else of being a terrorist).
With Head, Wade and especially Smith being simply wonderful in the 1st test, there is no question about any of their places, but consideration might be given as to Wade’s wicket keeping stocks, so he may be given a go behind the stumps, if nothing else than to give Tim Paine a break.
On the bowling front, it’s worth considering Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazlewood for the Second Test, but the men they are likely to replace, Peter Siddle and James Pattinson, should get a go too. It is being suggested that Starc is likely to play at Lord’s, but whether he replaces Siddle or Pattinson is somewhat up for debate.
While Siddle looks to be the weaker of the two bowlers, he is also a line and length bowler while Starc is a strike bowler, and having 3 strike bowlers in the same side with no line and length bowlers is dangerous and could lead to some bowler fatigue, thus potentially making it a choice of Starc or Pattinson, or perhaps Hazlewood versus Siddle. We potentially could go straight back to our big three bowlers as early as the Second Test.
Lords also has very little in it for the spinners so there is a chance that Australia will go all-pace, giving both Starc and Hazlewood a go while retaining one of Pattinson or Siddle – probably Pattinson. It might seem harsh on Lyon but there’s little point playing a spinner when it doesn’t spin.
It is also notable that Cameron Bancroft isn’t a regular opening batsman – or at least he didn’t used to be – and if he can’t bat with Warner (which seems painfully obvious) then perhaps he could bat further down the order, and maybe even have a go as a wicket keeper.
With that in mind, here is my preferred tour XI against Worcestershire (in batting order):
Matthew Wade (c)
Cameron Bancroft (wk)
Everyone bar Wade is fighting for their spot.