Tait recalled, Lyon gets World T20 audition
Shaun Tait's first international call-up for five years has exposed the national selectors' anxiety about a lack of high velocity pace bowling options ahead of the World Twenty20, while Nathan Lyon is also in strong contention having been named in the squad for three T20s against India.
While Lyon may well have been on the selectors' radar as a World T20 candidate for some time, the re-emergence of Tait has been more unexpected. Tait, now 32, has not played international cricket since the 2011 World Cup but has impressed the selectors during this summer's BBL, in which he has picked up 10 wickets at 24.70. Marsh said it remained to be seen whether Tait's express pace would be of value in Indian conditions, but admitted pace was needed in the absence of Mitchell Starc and Pat Cummins and following the retirement of Mitchell Johnson.
"We don't know and I don't know whether we'll find out - it's up to Shaun now," the selection chairman Rod Marsh said. "To be honest I didn't even know if he was going to play that many [BBL] games. I knew he was on the list. He's probably the fastest bowler in the country at the moment. You do need a bit of pace in T20 cricket."
Watson, recalled to the national side after a strong burst of performances for the Sydney Thunder in the latter stages of the Big Bash League, said Tait was a viable option for the World T20 in the rhythm he has shown during the tournament. "I did face him. I faced two balls, one was a very fast bouncer and the other one I nicked off, so he was very good!" Watson said.
"Shaun Tait's an X-Factor, always has been, and it's great to see him back around the Aussie team. I still believe he has a lot to offer, with his body right and bowling fast, the way he releases the ball is different to anything you face, so it's awesome he's got another opportunity."
Australia played only one T20 international in 2015 and the three games against India in Adelaide, Melbourne and Sydney will be the only chance for players to audition ahead of the naming of the World T20 squad. There was no room in the group for former T20 captain George Bailey, although Marsh said he was confident Bailey's experience would allow him to step straight back in if needed at the World T20.
Lyon's inclusion for what will be his T20 international debut comes as the selectors look for spin options given the turning conditions that will confront them at the World T20, with legspinner Cameron Boyce also included. Lyon has also been chosen for the final two ODIs against India, replacing the fast bowler Joel Paris, and Marsh said it was the right time to give him a chance with the white ball, having played only eight ODIs.
"We're probably looking to see how he goes and it is an audition for him re India, I guess," Marsh said of Lyon's selection in the T20 squad. "He's got such a wonderful record in Test cricket, we didn't want to jeopardise that in any way, shape or form. He's been a terrific bowler for us in Test match cricket and we certainly didn't want to play him in a few odd one-day games or an odd T20 here or there, and for him to start bowling flat and losing that terrific rhythm that he's now got."
Marsh said the selectors were taking a "wait-and-see" approach with Watson, whose ODI career appears to be over as well as his time as a Test cricketer. Watson's experience in India and at World T20 tournaments could yet see him gain a place in the final 15, which must be named by February 11, after he returned to form with 62 and 66 in his two most recent games for Sydney Thunder.
Also in the mix for top-order positions are Head and Chris Lynn, both of whom are in the top three run scorers in this year's BBL. Lynn played two T20s for Australia in January 2014 while Head is yet to make his debut for Australia in any form. New faces in the bowling group include Boland, who has played three ODIs already this summer, and Tye, who has 29 T20 wickets at 18.65 and an economy rate of less than seven.
"Not many countries have seen much of him," Marsh said of Tye, a Perth Scorchers fast bowler. "His form in the last two Big Bash Leagues has been outstanding. He is a good death bowler as well, and really it is death from over one in T20."
Like Bailey, allrounder Mitchell Marsh was also not named in the T20 squad, but remains strongly in the mix for the World T20. Rod Marsh said the fact that these were Australia's only matches before choosing the squad to visit India meant that it was wise to use the games to look at some players who were on the fringes of selection. He said the three T20s in Australia were in part World T20 auditions.
"Yeah it is but I think what we also have to remember is we're playing three matches under Australian conditions here and the World Cup's not in Australia," he said. "So we'll have to use a little bit of knowledge from the IPL, et cetera, to get that final 15 which is not going to be an easy task.
"I would imagine we would like to give all of the 17 a go somewhere, otherwise we wouldn't have picked that massive squad. The reason we picked [such a big] squad is some guys will be going off to New Zealand early [ahead of the ODI and Test series]."
Notably, Aaron Finch was retained as T20 captain despite the presence in the squad of Steven Smith, who is captain of both the Test and ODI sides. Marsh said consideration had been given to Smith taking on the T20 captaincy but "at the moment Aaron is doing the job and doing it nicely".
The selectors also confirmed their squad for the remaining two ODIs against India, with Paris and Usman Khawaja making way for Lyon and David Warner, who is returning from paternity leave. The final two games are in Canberra and Sydney, and are dead rubbers after Australia secured the series with their win in Melbourne on Sunday.
T20 squad Aaron Finch (capt), David Warner, Steven Smith, Shane Watson, Glenn Maxwell, Matthew Wade, James Faulkner, John Hastings, Shaun Marsh, Cameron Boyce, Nathan Lyon, Chris Lynn, Travis Head, Kane Richardson, Andrew Tye, Scott Boland, Shaun Tait
ODI squad Steven Smith (capt), Aaron Finch, David Warner, George Bailey, Glenn Maxwell, Mitchell Marsh, Matthew Wade, James Faulkner, John Hastings, Scott Boland, Kane Richardson, Nathan Lyon, Shaun Marsh
Brydon Coverdale is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @brydoncoverdale