Despite a spectacular Test tour of India, Australia has qualified for the World Test Championship final in England, but the composition of their playing 11 is still up for debate.
Australia secured its spot in the championship final at The Oval, taking on either India or Sri Lanka there starting on June 7, after defeating India by nine wickets in Indore last week. The following week, the Ashes series begins at Edgbaston.
On the England tour, Australia will almost definitely switch to a three-pace attack with Nathan Lyon as the lone spinner due to the drastically different conditions in England. While Australian skipper Pat Cummins missed the past two Tests against India due to a family health issue, Josh Hazlewood is recovering from an Achilles injury. Both seamers would be chosen for the WTC final, if eligible.
Although Todd Murphy might be able to make the Ashes team as a backup spinner, Australia only sent one tweaker to England in 2019.
Daniel Vettori, an Australian spin coach, thinks Murphy can win matches in any situation.
“I think that’s where you take confidence – that he can bowl the side spin, he can bowl the overspin like Nathan, he can chop and change between those roles,” he told reporters on Monday.
“I think you get the confidence that he can transition into all style of pitches all around the world.”
The biggest question mark still surrounds experienced opener David Warner, who missed the third and fourth Tests against India owing to an elbow fracture he suffered in Delhi. Despite this, his recent game is struggling.
The 36-year-old has just once in his last 15 Test innings (albeit he did hit 200 on that occasion) reached the fifty-mark, and his double century against South Africa on Boxing Day appears to have been an anomaly rather than a long-awaited return to form.
The New South Welshman’s difficulties in England are well known; in 13 Test matches, he has averaged 26.04, with no hundreds to his credit.
During the left-most hander’s recent Ashes tour in 2019, Stuart Broad tormented him, removing him seven times in ten innings as Warner averaged 9.50 over five Test matches.
Former Australian coach Darren Lehmann thought Warner may find success as a middle-order hitter in England.
“I thought in the last Ashes series he should bat down at five or six, something different, because he can really expose their bowling down the order,” Lehmann told SENQ’s Pat & Heals on Tuesday.
“If he’s not succeeding at the top, could bat down, you could swap Warner and (Travis) Head. Sometimes you’ve got to think outside the box to see who’s going to succeed.
“Broad and (James) Anderson are going to be quite difficult and Warner’s struggled with that in England, so whether they get him there or not will be a selectors’ call.
“My gut feel is they’ll take him in the squad (for the Ashes), but will they play him? I’m not so sure.
“But if you take him in the squad you might as well play him, or don’t take him at all.”
Ricky Ponting, a former Australian captain, says Warner missed the ideal opportunity for a fairytale retirement during the most recent home Test summer, but he anticipates that he will have another chance to bat first in the World Test Championship final.
“I thought the absolute best time for Davey to retire, if he was thinking about it at all, was after the Sydney Test match here in Australia,” Ponting told the ICC Review podcast.
“He’d just played his 100th Test in Melbourne, and obviously got 200 in the first innings down there. And to bow out in front of his home crowd is obviously the way that every player would like to finish their careers.
“Who knows now that opportunity might not come around again for Davey, you know. That’s nearly another 12 months away.
“I think it’d be fitting if he could do that, finish in front of his home crowd. But he’s going to have to play really well between now and then for that to happen.
“I don’t think it’s the end of David Warner … I think they’ll definitely want to play him in the World Test Championship match.
“I think they’ll bring him back for that one game and if he does well there he’ll probably start the Ashes and see where we go from there.
“They have got some really big decisions to make, leading into the Ashes as well. A bit like some of the selection issues they had coming to India.
“They’re probably going to have similar things to think about when they get to the UK because David’s record in the UK is not as strong as it is in some other places around the world.”
Warner is certain he’s still the best man for the job, and there’s no clear successor beating down the door for Test selection.
This summer’s Sheffield Shield has seen former Test opener Cameron Bancroft perform admirably. The West Australian is the competition’s leading run-scorer with 825 runs at 63.46, including four centuries in nine matches, but opinion among fans is divided on whether he merits a second chance at the Test level.
Another candidate is Matthew Renshaw, but the Queenslander might no longer be favoured by national selectors as a result of recent poor performances in India.
Travis Head has opened the batting during the Border-Gavaskar Trophy in Warner’s absence, top-scoring for Australia in the second innings at both Delhi and Indore, but the South Australian is not regarded a long-term option at the top of the order. The left-hander has only opened the batting five times at the first-class level, so the swinging Duke ball would put his batting technique to the test.
As a result, Head would move back to the middle of the order, potentially eliminating Peter Handscomb from the playing Eleven.
One of Australia’s most impressive batsmen in the Border-Gavaskar Trophy, Handscomb was returned to the Test team last month as a horse-for-courses pick. Yet, the Victorian could find himself carrying the drinks in England this winter.
In Ahmedabad, the 31-year-old will have one more opportunity to convince national selectors that he deserves to keep his place in the Test team.
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