Pat Cummins, the new Australian skipper after Tim Paine stepped down, has confirmed the XI he will take into the opening Vodafone Men’s Ashes Test match, with Travis Head winning the race to bat at No.5, while Mitchell Starc holds his place in the bowling attack. The announcement came at the official launch of the Test series, as players huddled around the crystal replica trophy.
Selectors had already confirmed that Alex Carey would be Australia’s wicketkeeper for the Gabba, replacing former skipper Tim Paine. Travis Head made his Test debut against Pakistan in Dubai in 2018 and played most of the Ashes series the following year. His last match was last year’s Boxing Day Test against India.
Australia XI: Marcus Harris, David Warner, Marnus Labuschagne, Steve Smith, Travis Head, Cameron Green, Alex Carey (wk), Pat Cummins (c), Mitch Starc, Nathan Lyon, Josh Hazlewood.
Pat Cummins: It Was Tough To Choose Between Usman Khawaja And Travis Head But The Latter Was Chosen For More Recent Test Appearances
Pat Cummins said it was a “tight one” to choose between Travis Head and Queensland captain, Usman Khawaja, to bat in the middle order, but Travis Head’s position as the more recent Test representative for the Aussies gave him the edge over the 34-year-old Usman Khawaja, who will turn 35 later this month, and is eight years older than the South Australian.
Travis Head has averaged 39.75 in 19 Tests for Australia, with two centuries and seven 50s. The 34-year-old Usman Khawaja’s last Test was against England in the Headingley Test in 2019, made famous by Ben Stokes’ match-winning innings of 135. Usman Khawaja has averaged 40.66 in 44 Tests, with eight centuries and 14 50s.
“It was a tight one. Both really good options, really strong form,” said Pat Cummins.
“Experience is great from Uzzie and we feel really lucky to have that in the squad, but Trav’s been playing a lot for us the last couple of years. He’s gone away and he’s churned out runs in England, here in Australia, and we feel like he’s really ready to go,” said Pat Cummins.
The public endorsement of the Australian side still three days out from the coin toss on Wednesday morning follows the trend set by national selector George Bailey, who publicly endorsed Victorian Marcus Harris as an opener in early November.
Marcus Harris has since credited that with allowing him to focus on the task rather than worrying about selection issues, saying: “It was just good to have some clear communication with a selector about what I was doing, what was in their minds and what was in their thinking for me. I think it’s good for your confidence as a player to know where you stand and having the backing of (selectors) is really good.”
While Pat Cummins was happy to confirm the side, England skipper Joe Root declined to follow suit but said spinner Jack Leach remained in contention to play.
“We’ve got all the options on the table (but) we’re not going to name a team just yet,” Root said. “We’ll have to see the closer forecase and how that pitch changes over the next couple of days. But it’s a great place to play spin. It’s something we’ll weigh up and consider, but we’re not in a position to make that call right now.”
England has named a surprisingly settled squad for the upcoming Ashes 2021/22 tour, despite having lost six of their last nine Tests, and won just one. The squad contains no debutants, and all involved played Test cricket during the 2021 English summer.
Mitchell Starc And Josh Hazlewood Are Likely To Take The New Ball While Skipper Pat Cummins Will Be First Change
Australia’s selectors have kept the faith with the ‘Big Three’ combination of Pat Cummins, Mitchell Starc, and Josh Hazlewood that has collected a combined 631 Test wickets. Mitchell Starc had been in doubt to hold his spot, especially with Jhye Richardson, who had taken 15 wickets in his past two Sheffield Shield matches – including eight at the Gabba last month – bowling with accuracy and searing pace.
Mitchell Starc took 9 wickets in four Tests in Australia’s last Test series against India and his inconsistent performances continued at the T20 World Cup.
Pat Cummins said Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazlewood were likely to still take the new ball, with the new captain keeping himself in reserve for the first change. On Saturday Australia head coach Justin Langer gave a strong endorsement of the incumbent pace trio’s preparation, despite the wet Brisbane weather in the lead-up.
“(Their preparation) has been excellent,” Langer said.
“We had some brilliant center-wicket practice (at Metricon Stadium), we always thought that their workloads coming from the World Cup and because we went so deep, that we might’ve had to work a bit harder on that, but they’ve been great.”
“They’ve had three or four center-wicket sessions, and you saw how the boys bowled (Saturday) – they’re up and about, and they’re very confident after the World Cup, and with the experience of their careers. So I’m happy with the way they’re going.”
India upset Australia at the Gabba in January, but more bowler-friendly conditions are expected when the ground hosts the first Test on the back of a historically-wet Spring.
Vodafone Men’s Ashes
Australia: Pat Cummins (c), Steve Smith (vc), Alex Carey, Cameron Green, Josh Hazlewood, Marcus Harris, Travis Head, Usman Khawaja, Marnus Labuschagne, Nathan Lyon, Michael Neser, Jhye Richardson, Mitchell Starc, Mitchell Swepson, David Warner
England: Joe Root (c), James Anderson, Jonathan Bairstow, Dom Bess, Stuart Broad, Rory Burns, Jos Buttler, Zak Crawley, Haseeb Hameed, Dan Lawrence, Jack Leach, Dawid Malan, Craig Overton, Ollie Pope, Ollie Robinson, Ben Stokes, Chris Woakes, Mark Wood
First Test: December 8-12, The Gabba
Second Test: December 16-20, Adelaide Oval
Third Test: December 26-30, MCG
Fourth Test: January 5-9, SCG
Fifth Test: January 14-18, Perth Stadium