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Ashes 2021/22

Ashes 2021/22: Khawaja’s return, Marsh’s snub – Five takeaways from Australia’s squad for the first two Tests

Ashes Australia 2021/22
Aadya Sharma by Aadya Sharma
@Aadya_Wisden 2 minute read

Australia announced a 15-member squad for the first two Ashes Tests, also naming an additional squad for the A series against the English Lions. While there weren’t any major surprises, there was still plenty to take away from the announcement of the Tim Paine-led unit.

Khawaja v Head in middle-order shootout

More than two years since his last Test appearance, Khawaja earned a much-deserved recall, following a spate of notable scores in domestic cricket. He’s currently the highest run-getter in the ongoing Sheffield Shield, averaging 67.33 in four games with two centuries, and has also been shooting at detractors along the way, while also maintaining that he’s fine to bat anywhere in the batting order.

It’s likely that the spot will come in the middle order – with Matthew Wade absent – but not unless he’s able to stave off competition from Travis Head, who himself hasn’t played a Test since the Melbourne Test against India last year. Head, seven years Khawaja’s junior, himself isn’t having a bad Shield season either, averaging 47 with a hundred in four games. Either way, it’s an exciting face-off for the No.5 spot.

Maddinson’s wait extends

What else does Nic Maddinson need to do to break his five-year Test hiatus? Ever since he moved to Victoria in 2018, Maddinson has been among the runs (big ones, at that): in 2019/20 he led the Shield run-charts, scoring 780 runs at 86.66, and this year, he averages 83.33 after four innings. After his superb 128 at the MCG earlier this month, Maddinson proclaimed “he wants to play Test cricket again”, but that probably will have to wait a bit more.

Harris retained, Pucovski’s frustration continues

The in-form Maddinson’s exclusion feels even more unfortunate if you put into perspective the recent returns of the incumbent opener Marcus Harris, confirmed to partner David Warner in the Ashes. Harris’ fifty-less streak has now been going on since January 2019, and he’s crossed 20 just once in his last 10 innings.

He could have been challenged by Pucovski, who featured in one Test earlier this year, but his problems with concussion continue to harrow him and is said to be still having symptoms from a blow in October.

World Cup heroes Marsh, Wade miss out

It hasn’t been a week since Matthew Wade and Mitchell Marsh starred on two very important nights, playing defining knocks in the semi-final and final of the T20 World Cup. Wade’s 17-ball 41 was preceded by a period of thin returns, and he averages 30 in his last 15 Test innings.

Final-hero Mitchell Marsh, on the other hand, would have been eyeing an all-rounder’s spot to revitalise his Test career (he hasn’t played since the 2019 Ashes), but Australia opted to stick with Cameron Green, who has one fifty from his first seven Test innings and is yet to pick up a wicket. Part of the A squad, Marsh will be looking to enhance his red-ball credentials further, and try and a win a spot for the remaining games.

Jhye, Neser could have bigger roles in rotating pace attack

Vice-captain Pat Cummins indicated at a rotating pace attack for the Ashes, saying he “would be surprised” if they played the same four bowlers across the five games. It could open the way for Jhye Richardson and Michael Neser to play a bigger role, having spent considerable time on the benches in the recent past. Neser has been tipped for a spot for close to half a decade, while Richardson has been kept out since his debut in 2019, with injuries often coming in the way.

The trio of Australia’s frontline quicks – Starc, Hazlewood and Cummins – all played in their T20 World Cup triumph.

Australia Ashes squad: Tim Paine (c), Pat Cummins (vc), Cameron Green, Marcus Harris, Josh Hazlewood, Travis Head, Usman Khawaja, Marnus Labuschagne, Nathan Lyon, Michael Neser, Jhye Richardson, Steve Smith, Mitchell Starc, Mitchell Swepson, David Warner

Australia A players: Sean Abbott, Ashton Agar, Scott Boland, Alex Carey, Henry Hunt, Josh Inglis, Nic Maddinson, Mitchell Marsh, Matt Renshaw, Mark Steketee, Bryce Street

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