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Ashes 2021/22

Four Ashes selection questions for Tim Paine and Australia

by Wisden Staff 4 minute read

Australia have named a 15-member squad for the first two Ashes Tests – we’ve taken a look at the number of selection questions facing them ahead of the first Test on December 8 at Gabba and beyond.

Usman Khawaja v Travis Head

Usman Khawaja is back and he’ll battle it out with Travis Head for the No.5 position, with Marcus Harris currently nailed on to open the batting alongside David Warner. Khawaja, who was axed from the Test side midway through 2019 Ashes, is in excellent nick after scoring 404 runs in his first four Sheffield Shield matches so far this season. He leads the run-scoring charts in the competition and, with a Test batting average of 52.79 in Australia, has a strong case to resume his international career at the Gabba opener.

Head started the Shield season with a knock of 163 against Western Australia, and followed it up with a monumental 230 in a Marsh Cup encounter against Queensland, but has fallen away recently, hitting one fifty in his last six innings across forms. He was dropped midway through the Test series against India during the last Australian summer, but also holds an impressive record at home, averaging 46.66 after 13 Tests.

Who is Tim Paine’s back-up?

The Australia captain’s preparations ahead of the Ashes have not been ideal, with neck surgery in September meaning he hasn’t played a first-class match since April, when he scored 20 and 22* for Tasmania against Western Australia.

The player, who turns 37 during the Ashes, has been under fire for his leadership following the series loss to India at the start of the year, casting a shadow over his future with the side. For now, however, fitness permitting, he’ll be leading Australia out at the Gabba.

Nonetheless, questions do remain over who is his back-up in case of injury; there are no other specialist wicketkeepers in Australia’s squad. This means looking towards the ‘A’ squad announced to play in an intrasquad warm-up match and against England Lions. Josh Inglis and Alex Carey are both keeping options from that party; the former has spent the last few weeks at the T20 World Cup while the latter has made 148 Shield runs at an average of 29.60 for South Australia.

Who is next in the fast-bowling pecking order?

The trio of Pat Cummins, Josh Hazlewood and Mitchell Starc have been mainstays for Australia over the last few years, but a five-match Test series certainly opens up the prospect of rotation. The back-ups for the first two Tests are Michael Neser and Jhye Richardson, which leads to the question of who will be the first man to break into the side.

Richardson has picked up 16 wickets in three Sheffield Shield games, averaging 12.50. No other player who has more than 15 wickets in the competition has a better average. Overall, he has played two Tests, picking up six scalps, though his last outing in the format was back in 2019, with a troublesome shoulder derailing his progress since.

Neser, who is yet to make his debut, has been a consistent performer in first-class cricket for several years, but Ricky Ponting believes Richardson is higher in the pecking order.

“I think Jhye has got a little bit more pace up his sleeve when he needs it (and) is more of an out-and-out swing bowler with the brand new-ball, whereas Neser is more of a seamer,” Ponting told cricket.com.au. “So I think Jhye would be the next cab off the rank.”

Will Mitchell Swepson be granted a chance?

Leg-spinner Mitchell Swepson is currently Australia’s back-up to Nathan Lyon and is uncapped, but Ponting also told cricket.com.au he believes the pair could play together at some point in the series if all-rounder Cameron Green is deemed reliable as a third seamer.

The Queensland bowler took 32 wickets at an average of 23.40 in the 2020/21 Sheffield Shield season.

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