Cowan, Marsh, Hilfenhaus named for Boxing Day
Ed Cowan, the Tasmania opening batsman currently among the runs, has been picked for Australia's Boxing Day Test team to face India and will be joined in the top three by Shaun Marsh provided the West Australian can prove his fitness.
Ben Hilfenhaus has also earned a recall, the selectors seeking an experienced head to help a young bowling attack battle India's batsmen at the MCG.
Cowan and Marsh replaced Phillip Hughes and Usman Khawaja from the XI that was beaten by New Zealand in Hobart, with Shane Watson and Ryan Harris unable to be chosen due to continued fitness complaints.
Watson aggravated a calf problem on day one of the team's batting camp in Melbourne, while Harris indicated he was short of the required conditioning after returning to cricket for the Brisbane Heat in last night's BBL match at the Gabba.
John Inverarity, the national selector, said Cowan would open the batting, with Marsh and Daniel Christian to vie for one spot and Hilfenhaus and Mitchell Starc the other.
"Ed has been in wonderful form, and the intention is that he will open the batting with David Warner," Inverarity said. "Of the XI that will line up on December 26, it will either be Shaun Marsh or Daniel Christian.
"It is likely if Shaun plays that he'll be batting at No. 3, if Daniel plays then he'd be at No. 6 and the batting line-up would be re-arranged accordingly, and then it would seem likely that one of Mitchell Starc and Ben Hilfenhaus would be 12th man. That's the anticipated balance of the side but we'll have to wait on weather and pitch conditions and final form and fitness."
Inverarity said Marsh's need to show his back can stand up to the rigours of a Test match caused the naming of a 13-man squad.
"The NSP has named 13 players due to the ongoing uncertainty about the fitness of Shaun Marsh," Inverarity said. "Shane Watson was not considered for selection as he has not recovered sufficiently from his injury. Ryan Harris has not yet achieved the volume of bowling required to be available for consideration for Test selection.
"Ed Cowan has been in excellent form in recent weeks. His inclusion is in recognition of his consistently good performances and we anticipate that he can provide steadiness at the top of the order. Ben Hilfenhaus has regained form this season and he provides a strong and reliable bowling option.
"We see both Phillip Hughes and Usman Khawaja as developing players with bright futures and remaining as players of significance. They are determined young men and I know that they will work hard to produce compelling performances and push strongly for further consideration."
Since turning around an indifferent start to the season with an unbeaten 91 in a limited overs match against South Australia in Burnie in mid-November, Cowan's scores have been 4, 134*, 145, 10, 65, 145* and 109 in the first innings of the tour match against the Indians.
His strong form has been mirrored by Hilfenhaus, who has shown greater snap and swing this summer, most recently for Hobart in the Twenty20 competition, after he looked innocuous at times against England during last summer's Ashes series. He was also considered close to selection for the New Zealand series, though the selectors ultimately decided to test out a younger attack as a precursor to India's visit.
"Ben Hilfenhaus is in very good form," Inverarity said. "I think he had a few body concerns and his action deteriorated a little bit last year and he seems to have got it back and been playing in very good form. He is a strong, durable, experienced bowler.
"It [the T20 match in Perth] certainly wasn't a negative, he bowled very well, but we've been considering Ben for some weeks and he provides a strong, durable experienced option for us."
Watson's case is more problematic, as he has now suffered a trio of fitness problems since the start of the South Africa tour. Inverarity said the panel was hopeful Watson would be fit to play in the second Test of the India series in Sydney.
"Shane is not fit to play. He's had ongoing troubles with his calf," Inverarity said. "The situation is improving and we hope he'll be in contention for the second Test in Sydney. But he's not available to play this game. It is an option for him to bat down the order, yes. The word from Shane Watson was that he was not fit to play. I wasn't in Melbourne yesterday but he spoke at length with Mickey Arthur and the word was he's not ready."
Ricky Ponting and Michael Hussey remain part of the Test team despite poor displays in Hobart and advancing years, Inverarity speaking of their value to the dressing room as a critical factor in their continued retention.
"They've both been wonderful cricketers, they are wonderful cricketers, and terrific men and provide a lot for the side," he said. "We all on the selection panel are keen for them to do well. We're hoping they have a breakthrough in the next week or two. They offer a tremendous amount to the side."
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo