Spinner Nathan Lyon is the first beneficiary in the change to Australia’s selection panel, having been recalled to the national one-day line-up for this month’s tour to Zimbabwe after more than two years on the outer of the white ball game.
Lyon was the most surprising inclusion in the 14-man squad to tackle Zimbabwe and South Africa in a two-week round-robin ODI tournament in Harare beginning on August 25.
The squad, announced today by newly installed chairman of selectors Rod Marsh, also includes exciting young allrounders Mitchell Marsh and Ben Cutting as well as pace bowler Kane Richardson who have been in outstanding form during the recent Australia A series in Queensland and the Northern Territory.
However, a change in personnel around the selection table has not delivered a change in fortunes for perennially peripheral opening batsman Phil Hughes who was once again overlooked despite a number of factors in his favour.
Hughes last week became the first Australian man to score a double century in a top-tier 50-over match when he blasted an unbeaten 202 against South Africa A, and he seemed the likely replacement for regular opener David Warner who will miss the tour due to the impending birth of his first child.
Instead, the selection panel of Marsh, Mark Waugh, Trevor Hohns and coach Darren Lehmann opted for just six specialist batsmen with Shane Watson and wicketkeeper Brad Haddin (both of whom have opened for Australia in ODIs) most likely to accompany Aaron Finch at the top of the order.
Marsh conceded that Hughes – along with paceman Clint McKay and left-arm spinner Xavier Doherty – was unlucky not to have made the squad but claimed there was no obvious vacancy to slot him into the top six.
“We would have loved to pick Phillip but it’s quite difficult to find the spot for him with a strong batting line-up,” Marsh said.
“He was in superb form during the recent Australia A one-day matches, including a stand-out double-century and the NSP will certainly be continuing to watch him closely.”
The quandary faced by the new selection panel, which already has half an eye on the upcoming World Cup to be played in Australia and New Zealand in February and March, is that the rare winter hiatus for Australia’s senior cricketers has meant little or no recent form guide for many players.
The exception has been those such as Finch and all-rounder Glenn Maxwell who have been involved in the English county cricket, and the likes of Marsh, Cutting and Richardson who have been involved in four and one-day cricket with Australia A.
However, the inclusion of Lyon would appear to be more of a speculative decision by the selectors given that the off-spinner last represented Australia in an ODI in the West Indies in March 2012, and finished with the unflattering figures of 0-147 in his most recent outing – a four-day game for Australia against India A in Brisbane.
“Nathan has done very well in Test match cricket,” Marsh pointed out.
“He first came under notice in T20 cricket, he's bowled well in last year's Ryobi Cup and I guess the unlucky one there is Xavier Doherty.
“But having said that we know exactly what Xavier is capable of.
“We're not 100 per cent sure of what Nathan is capable of seeing as his last ODI for Australia was in the West Indies and that's a couple of years back now.
“We want to give him another opportunity before we even start talking too much about the upcoming World Cup.
“It's not to say that Doherty won't be in that squad but we just want to have a look at Nathan on top of some pretty good Test match form.”
Even though McKay – like Doherty – has been a regular part of Australia’s one-day plans in recent years, the selectors decided that the short one-day series in Zimbabwe was an ideal opportunity to give other players in the mix for a World Cup berth a chance to push their case.
With further ODI commitments against Pakistan, South Africa, England and India ahead of Australia’s opening World Cup fixture on February 14, Marsh said the panel was not locked into a preferred starting XI and was keen to explore all available options.
“That's what Australia A is all about, you really perform well in Australia A and you're a chance if we can fit you in.”
Australian squad for tri-series in Zimbabwe: Michael Clarke (c), George Bailey, Ben Cutting, James Faulkner, Aaron Finch, Brad Haddin, Mitchell Johnson, Mitchell Marsh, Glenn Maxwell, Nathan Lyon, Kane Richardson, Steve Smith, Mitchell Starc, Shane Watson.