Khawaja, Head back for Australia’s Ashes campaign

SYDNEY: Veteran Usman Khawaja and middle-order batsman Travis Head were recalled to Australia’s squad for the opening two Ashes Tests against England Wednesday, with incumbent number five Matthew Wade axed.

Michael Neser and Jhye Richardson were also in the 15-man line-up as back-up for the fast-bowling attack of Mitchell Starc, Pat Cummins and Josh Hazlewood after the shock retirement of James Pattinson last month.

Marcus Harris, as expected, got the nod in the absence of concussion-hit Will Pucovski and is expected to open alongside David Warner, fresh from his exploits in helping Australia win the Twenty20 World Cup on Sunday.

But there was no place for fellow World Cup standout Mitchell Marsh, despite calls for the all-rounder to be given another chance at Test level.

“After an extended break between Test matches we are looking to build a strong squad mentality across what is an incredibly exciting summer of cricket,” said chief selector George Bailey ahead of the opening Test at Brisbane on December 8.

“This group is well balanced to ensure we are prepared for the many challenges of an Ashes series. It has a mix of experienced, proven performers and emerging, developing talent.

“We will take this 15-player squad into the opening Test in Brisbane and the pink ball match in Adelaide, after which we can reassess for the remaining matches,” he added.

After Brisbane and Adelaide, the series moves to Melbourne and Sydney before ending in Perth.

Australia are the holders of the Ashes after retaining the urn following a 2-2 draw in England in 2019.

Marnus Labuschagne and Steve Smith are secure in the order at three and four, leaving Khawaja and Head to battle for the number five slot after Wade was dropped.

Great touch

Khawaja hasn’t played a Test since the 2019 Ashes in England, but he has been in such rich form in the domestic Sheffield Shield that it was hard to ignore him, having piled on 404 runs at an average of 67.33, including two centuries.

Head, once touted as a future Australia captain, was axed midway through last summer’s series against India, but he too gets another chance after showing good early season touch.

“Travis finished last summer strongly, second only to Cameron Green for runs scored, and has again started the season well,” said Bailey.

“He drives the game forward and can put the opposition under pressure with his ability to score quickly.

“Similarly, Usman Khawaja has been in great touch. He brings a calm, consistent and experienced component to the batting line-up and is a proven run-scorer at Test level.

“He also has the ability to bat across a range of positions in the batting order.”

Which of them plays the opening Test could come down to how they perform in a practice game in Brisbane from December 1-3

With Marsh having to settle for a slot in the Australia A squad, young talent Green is set to come in at six ahead of wicketkeeper-captain Tim Paine, who is racing the clock to be fit after invasive neck surgery in September.

The trusty trio of Starc, Cummins and Hazlewood again spearhead the attack alongside spin wizard Nathan Lyon.

But the retirement of Pattinson meant Australia needed a fourth quick bowler, with Richardson competing with Neser, who is recovering from a low-grade hamstring strain, for the honour.

Mitchell Swepson was included as the backup spin option to Lyon.

Australia squad: Tim Paine (Captain), Pat Cummins, 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

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