Australia picked an extended 17-man squad including three rookies as players struggle with injuries and form before next week’s series-opening Ashes cricket Test against England.
The squad, which numbers one more than England’s touring party for the five-match contest, will be reduced to 12 or 13 before the Nov. 25 opener in Brisbane, chairman of selectors Andrew Hilditch said at the announcement in Sydney today.
The four-man selection panel named a larger-than-usual group so they could assess players in this week’s domestic games and a match between Australia’s second-string team and England, which holds the Ashes following a 2-1 home victory last year.
“Anyone in that squad, if they put up a good performance this week, is a chance of getting themselves into the first Test,” Australia captain Ricky Ponting told reporters.
Spin bowler Xavier Doherty, and middle-order batsmen Callum Ferguson and Usman Khawaja were the newcomers in a squad that also included pace bowlers Ryan Harris and Peter Siddle. There was no place for backup opener Phillip Hughes.
Doherty, who took four wickets in his one-day international debut against Sri Lanka two weeks ago, was one of three spin bowlers named alongside regular frontline Test spinner Nathan Hauritz and Steve Smith.
Hauritz, a right-arm off-spinner, and left-armer Doherty will go head-to-head in Sydney this week when their New South Wales and Tasmania state teams meet.
“One of the biggest decisions we will need to make is whether we go into the first Test in Brisbane with a right-arm off spinner or with the variation of a left-arm orthodox bowler,” Hilditch said.
Ferguson and Khawaja were included as batting backup, with vice-captain Michael Clarke struggling with a back problem and opener Simon Katich returning from a hand injury. The rookies will get their chance to press claims for a Test debut when Australia ‘A’ takes on England in Hobart.
The four-day match, England’s final tuneup for the Ashes, starts in two days.
Clarke, who suffered a recurrence of a long-standing disc problem last week, said he’ll sit out the New South Wales- Tasmania game to rest his back, adding that he’s “confident” of being “100 percent ready to go come Brisbane.”
Katich made his comeback from a broken thumb in a club match at the weekend and said the injury had healed.
Harris and fellow fast bowler Doug Bollinger were included even though they’ve struggled with knee and stomach injuries, respectively. Harris, who took a career-best 9-140 last week, has “a chronic knee injury that requires ongoing management,” said Alex Kountouris, the Australian team’s physiotherapist.
While Australia’s starting lineup for the first Test isn’t clear with the series only 10 days away, Clarke said the injury concerns and need to analyze form “probably justify” the selection of such a large group.
“Obviously the selectors are concerned about that,” Clarke told reporters. “They want to see some guys play before they pick what they feel is the best 11 for the first Test.”
Australia has lost its last three matches in cricket’s elite format, its worst run since 1988, while England hasn’t won an Ashes series in Australia since 1986-87.
Australia squad: Ricky Ponting (captain), Michael Clarke (vice-captain), Shane Watson, Simon Katich, Callum Ferguson, Mike Hussey, Marcus North, Usman Khawaja, Brad Haddin, Nathan Hauritz, Steve Smith, Mitchell Johnson, Peter Siddle, Ben Hilfenhaus, Doug Bollinger, Ryan Harris, Xavier Doherty.
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