Burns and Khawaja named in Test squad
Joe Burns and Usman Khawaja have been preferred to the younger Cameron Bancroft in Australia's 12-man squad for the first two Tests against New Zealand. Burns is set to be the new opening partner for David Warner following the retirement of Chris Rogers at the end of the Ashes, while Khawaja's most likely position is at No.3 if Steven Smith moves down to No.4 as expected.
There was no room for either Bancroft or Shaun Marsh, both of whom were part of the squad for the abandoned tour of Bangladesh. Not surprisingly, four fast men have been named - Mitchell Johnson, Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood and Peter Siddle - with one of them likely to be made 12th man for the first Test at the Gabba starting on Thursday.
It will be Australia's first Test since the post-Ashes retirements of Rogers, Michael Clarke, Brad Haddin and Shane Watson, but the inclusion of Burns and Khawaja means that no new baggy greens will be handed out. Khawaja played the most recent of his nine Tests on the 2013 Ashes tour, while Burns scored twin half-centuries in the second of his two Tests against India last summer.
National selector Rod Marsh said Burns had earned his place through weight of runs over the course of his first-class career, and that he had been unlucky to be dropped after the Indian series last season.
"He's got more runs than the other contenders," Marsh told reporters in Adelaide. "He averages more than the other contenders. He got two fifties in his last Test match, extremely unlucky not to be going to the West Indies and England, he was chosen to go to Bangladesh, would have opened the batting there. Any other explanation?"
Bancroft, 22, is expected to feature in future Test squads and impressed last summer with 896 runs in the Sheffield Shield, making him third on the competition tally. However, the selectors hope Bancroft might benefit from some more time in the Shield before he wins a baggy green.
"He's a good young player, he's as tough as nails, and we all think he has got what it takes to play Test cricket," Marsh said. "But we think he's a few runs shy at the moment; he's a few hundreds shy. And we'd like to pick him when he's in sparkling form and getting first-class hundreds, that is when we'd really like to pick a young player.
"What we tried to do was pick the best side. We know New Zealand are going to be very, very worthy opponents. In fact they're a damn good side. And it's very important for Steve Smith and David Warner, the two leaders of our group, it's very important they get off to a good start.
"And I don't personally think it was time for just wild experimentation. I think we had to be very measured in what we did with this team to allow the new captain the best chance of getting off [to a good start]. It's all very well saying `pick youth and go with youth all the time' but you have got to pick the best side."
Khawaja, 28, and Burns, 26, now have the chance to make long-term positions in Australia's top order their own, while the older Adam Voges, 36, is viewed as an important leader with plenty of first-class experience during this period of changeover. Voges has retained his spot at No.5, while the allrounder Mitchell Marsh is set to stay at No.6 as what Rod Marsh called a batting allrounder.
"Harking back to England, the thing we were most worried about was his bowling, but now because he hasn't made many runs recently I think everyone is worried about his batting," he said. "I've got faith in him. He's a good young bloke, with a good technique and a desire to play well for Australia.
"He played beautifully [on debut last year] and he backed it up in the second innings in conditions that were difficult and conditions he wasn't used to. The Gabba and Perth pitches should suit his batting. That's where he was brought up in Perth with a bit of bounce, and he should be well suited to those two pitches."
Peter Nevill will play a Test match at home for the first time after he replaced Haddin during the Ashes series, and the make-up of the attack remains the main question leading into the Gabba Test. Hazlewood was dropped for the final Ashes Test at The Oval, where Siddle performed well as his replacement, and it is likely that one of them will be the bowler to miss out.
"We are pleased with how our bowling unit is going at the moment," Marsh said. "Both Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazlewood had fantastic performances in the Matador Cup and Mitchell Johnson looks ready to fire after a decent break. Off the back of a great bowling performance in the last Test Peter Siddle earns his selection with Nathan Lyon, a proven performer in the side rounding out our attack."
Australia squad David Warner, Joe Burns, Usman Khawaja, Steven Smith (capt), Adam Voges, Mitchell Marsh, Peter Nevill (wk), Mitchell Johnson, Mitchell Starc, Peter Siddle, Nathan Lyon, Josh Hazlewood
Brydon Coverdale is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @brydoncoverdale