‘Still spots up for grabs’: Ashes berths on the line
There have been times over the past 18 months when Australian selectors had great difficulty finding players to pick in the Test side. As they sit down over the next week to finalise their Ashes squad, their issue will be who they will have to leave out.
The returns of Steve Smith and David Warner from suspension and the revival in Australia's fortunes late last summer mean there is suddenly depth and hot competition for places.
Though Test captain Tim Paine has declared next week's tour match between two Australian sides in Southampton will not be an Ashes shootout, privately, coach and selector Justin Langer is placing great importance on the game.
Selector Trevor Hohns hinted this week that while form last summer at home would be considered, there would be more weight given to strong performances in English conditions.
Hohns suggested there were three or four positions still up for grabs in the 16-man squad. If we take him at face value, selectors will take five quicks, two spinners and a back-up gloveman, leaving open seven batting berths.
This is where most of the intrigue lies. With Smith and Warner back, there could be two players who made a century in Australia's most recent Test who are in danger of missing out.
You can mark down Marcus Harris, Warner, Usman Khawaja, Smith and Travis Head as locks, which leaves two batting spots open. Matthew Wade, Mitchell Marsh and Marnus Labuschagne head the queue.
Do selectors opt to fill these positions with a spare opener, middle-order specialist or all-rounders?
Wade, who has given away the keeping gloves, is mounting a compelling case to claim Kurtis Patterson's position in the middle order.
One of the best-performed batsmen in the Shield the past two seasons, Wade has plundered attacks in short- and long-form cricket. His century this week against the England Lions was, from all accounts, most impressive.
He had an injury scare after being hit on the elbow. Scans have cleared him of structural damage, but talk of a bruised nerve will draw comparisons to the injury Ricky Ponting suffered in 2009 that brought a downturn in form.
Patterson's habit of not converting his starts may cost him. The left-hander, who made a ton in his last Test, did himself few favours with knocks of 32 and 38 against the England Lions and will need a big score next week to re-establish his claims.
Marsh is back in the picture, having shaken off Marcus Stoinis as Australia's preferred all-rounder. The maligned West Australian is fitter than he's ever been after training with AFL club West Coast and it has shown in his bowling, with Paine saying his pace is up.
Due to the dominance of Australia A's top order, he has not needed to do much with the bat but has done enough to encourage selectors. If they want a seam-bowling option in the top six, Marsh will be picked.
Labuschagne is making a late charge after starring for Glamorgan in county cricket, albeit in division two, with 1114 runs at 65, five hundreds, and 19 wickets at 38 with the ball. The Queenslander will give selectors the option of playing a second spinner without sacrificing a paceman.
As he has a county deal, selectors may leave him out knowing he won't be far away if needed.
If a spare opener is required, it will be between Joe Burns and Cameron Bancroft. Will Pucovksi and Peter Handscomb are considered outsiders to make the squad.
Khawaja is on track to play in the first Test after hurting his hamstring two weeks ago.
With Wade no longer keeping, Alex Carey will be Paine's understudy. The South Australian had an excellent World Cup with bat and gloves and is seen as a future leader, despite moderate numbers at first-class level.
Hohns has declared two frontline slow bowlers will tour, so expect Jon Holland to be the back-up to Nathan LRead More – Source