July 26 (Bloomberg) -- Australia picked four rookies, including a spin bowler who was working as groundsman six months ago, for its three-Test cricket series in Sri Lanka starting next month.
Off-spinner Nathan Lyon was joined by fast bowlers Trent Copeland and James Pattinson and batsman Shaun Marsh as the newcomers in a 15-man squad. All-rounder Steve Smith and pace duo Doug Bollinger and Ben Hilfenhaus were omitted.
Lyon, 23, was selected after just four first-class games and will head to Sri Lanka, where the pitches typically assist spin bowlers, alongside fellow spinner Michael Beer, who made his Test debut in January as Australia slumped to a 3-1 Ashes series loss to England.
“It was a surprise selection,” chairman of selectors Andrew Hilditch said in a televised news conference. Lyon “nearly needed a heart starter when I told him the news. We think in Sri Lanka there’s a chance of playing two spinners.”
Lyon was working as a groundsman at the Adelaide Oval when the South Australia state team picked him in January for its Twenty20 campaign. He made his first-class debut the following month and was chosen for Australia’s second-string team on its June and July tour of Zimbabwe, where he was named player of the one-day series after taking 11 wickets.
Lyon and Beer were chosen ahead of Cricket Australia’s contracted spin bowlers as Xavier Doherty, Jason Krejza, Nathan Hauritz joined all-rounder Smith in being overlooked.
Australia has struggled to find a front-line spinner following Shane Warne’s retirement 4 1/2 years ago. Should Lyon play in Sri Lanka, he would be the 10th specialist to be tried since Warne quit with a national-record 708 Test wickets.
“It has certainly come out of the blue but I’m not going to knock it back,” Lyon said in a televised news conference. “I always thought it possibly could happen if I really worked on my own game and backed my skills.”
Phillip Hughes will open the batting in Sri Lanka with vice-captain Shane Watson, Hilditch said. Former skipper Ricky Ponting, his replacement Michael Clarke, Mike Hussey and Usman Khawaja are the other batsman in the squad.
Marsh, the son of former Australia opener Geoff, has been under consideration “for some time as a player who could have a real impact at international level,” Hilditch added.
The best-of-three contest, which will be Clarke’s first Test series since replacing Ponting as captain in March, starts Aug. 31 in Galle with matches in Kandy and Colombo to follow.
After his appointment, Clarke said Australia needed to “go back to basics,” having slipped from first to fifth in the International Cricket Council’s Test rankings.
“We need some experienced players, which we think we’ve got,” Hilditch said. “We also need to find a couple of new champions in the next couple of years.”
AUSTRALIA SQUAD: Michael Clarke (captain), Shane Watson (vice-captain), Michael Beer, Trent Copeland, Brad Haddin, Ryan Harris, Phillip Hughes, Michael Hussey, Mitchell Johnson, Usman Khawaja, Nathan Lyon, Shaun Marsh, James Pattinson, Ricky Ponting, Peter Siddle.
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