Howard, selectors test depth at their disposal
Australia have turned an injury predicament into a selection opportunity by naming four potential debutants in the squad for the first Test against New Zealand. They are unlikely to be the last tyros tried this summer.
Under the authority of the team performance manager Pat Howard, the new panel of John Inverarity, captain Michael Clarke, coach Mickey Arthur, Rod Marsh and Andy Bichel are intent on expanding the group of cricketers capable of playing Test cricket, eventually hoping to have as many as 25 players ready for the baggy green at any moment in the calendar.
"This summer we are taking on a squad mentality and building depth," Howard said. "Players are going to come in and out regardless of who they are. We will take performances on board to try and build the strength of depth that we really need - that's regardless of the 18-year-old or the 36-year-old."
To that end David Warner, Ben Cutting, James Pattinson and Mitchell Starc were named in the 12 for the Gabba, an accent on youth and current form ruling out the likes of Trent Copeland, Ben Hilfenhaus and the Australia A centurion Ed Cowan. The latter trio might all have been selected at another time, but a series against New Zealand has been judged the ideal moment to explore the selectors' options for the future.
"We've got very much an eye to the future, it is a disappointing we've got so many injuries, but the injuries have created a wonderful opportunity for young cricketers," Inverarity said in Brisbane. "The way ahead for Australia is to see how good these young players are, and it is a fantastic opportunity for these young men.
"We were hoping that those who were pressing for selection would be in the younger age bracket, and that's exactly what was the case. They were the ones who were really impressive, they were performing, they were looking good. We need to develop a very good squad of players, particularly a squad of faster bowlers. There's a very heavy workload and that workload needs to be shared. To have promising young 22, 23-year-old pace bowlers is very encouraging."
Copeland is known to be extremely disappointed at missing out on a berth for the first Test, having contributed to Australia's Test series win in Sri Lanka then serving as first reserve in South Africa. Inverarity pointed out that Copeland had lacked for bowling and wickets in recent weeks.
"Trent has been slightly a victim of opportunity," Inverarity said. "Since the beginning of October he's in his fifth game since than, and if you look at his stats, in the last eight weeks he's only taken one wicket for about 250 runs, so just at the moment he wasn't pressing for selection. But knowing the sort of young man and bowler he is, we're hoping he can start racking up performance and knocking on the door again - we need depth of bowlers."
While the fast bowling and wicket-keeping spots are the subject of some debate, Inverarity indicated that the likes of Ricky Ponting and Michael Hussey are not yet being sufficiently pushed by batsmen beneath them in domestic cricket. The selection panel would dearly like a return to the heavy runs being made by the batsmen in line a decade ago.
"We want lots more batsmen knocking on the door," Inverarity said. "You pick your best time always with an eye to the future. If there are some senior batsmen to be replaced, then it's got to be the younger batsmen who are making the quantity of runs that presses their claims.
"We're delighted we've got two young 'keepers in the wings. The strength of any sporting team has got a great deal to do with the depth of the squad, and we're delighted we have those two 'keepers and a number of fast bowlers pushing."
In its first major squad since convening, the selection panel sought a balance between choosing fit and in-form cricketers but also making them earn a place in the team. Howard, who also sits in on selection meetings, said there would be other times in the future when players would not be asked to carry niggling injuries through five days of a Test because of the greater squad depth presently being grown.
"It is a fine balance, you don't want to cheapen the baggy green, but you've got to make sure you're putting players onto the field that are in absolutely tip-top condition," Howard said. "There are some players who are 80% or 70% and sometimes you'll give them the Test off to come back at 100%, means you're putting the best players on the field for each game.
"This game we have the opportunity to put the best players in the best conditions, who are performing, who give the selectors a group or a bevy of players to put forward. What we hope is to manage the players outside the team very strongly to give the selectors more of a headache over the coming weeks."
Arthur has arrived in Brisbane to join Howard, Inverarity, Marsh and Bichel, and will meet with Clarke for the first time on Sunday, before addressing the squad once it assembles at the team hotel in Brisbane.
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo