Selectors 'spoke a lot' about Klinger
Joe Burns and Usman Khawaja got the nod, Cameron Bancroft and Shaun Marsh just missed out, but there was also plenty of discussion about the veteran Michael Klinger in Australia's selection meeting ahead of the first Test against New Zealand. At 35, Klinger seemed unlikely to be seriously considered for the start of a rebuilding process after a number of post-Ashes retirements.
However, his double-century for Western Australia in the first round of Sheffield Shield matches was timely as the younger contenders around the country failed to have an impact in the last innings before the squad was chosen. It was Klinger's 14th century across all formats in the past year, and head coach and selector Darren Lehmann said his name had been part of the discussion.
"We spoke about him quite a lot, to be perfectly honest," Lehmann said on SEN radio in Melbourne on Friday. "He was very, very close. It's a tough one isn't it. His experience is there. He's 35, we've already got Adam Voges who is 36. Do we want to go down that path?
"Age is not too much of an issue, but when we're looking at players over a period of time - he averages 38 in first-class cricket, Khawaja averages 40 for example and he's seven or eight years younger. Sometimes you just have to go with a gut feel. It's a tough call sometimes. But we certainly looked at him."
National selector Rod Marsh was blunt when asked about Klinger, declaring that although he had been discussed, his long-term performance had not been such that he warranted jumping ahead of the younger men.
"Of course we've looked at Michael Klinger," Marsh said. "He's got to keep making runs. "Have you looked at Michael Klinger's batting average in first-class cricket? It's not as good as the other boys. Part of our selection policy is if you've got two blokes that are absolutely equal you go for the younger bloke, and I think that's very fair.
"If one bloke is noticeably better and is more likely to influence the outcome of a game, then you pick the old bloke. But if they're not noticeably better and they're not likely to influence the outcome of a game, then you must always go with your youth. That's our policy, and whether you agree with it or not, it's irrelevant."
Although Klinger's long-term figures might appear slightly underwhelming, he has enjoyed a productive period in his thirties. In the past two years he has averaged 45.95 in first-class cricket, with 11 centuries, but even if Burns and Khawaja fail to grasp their chances against New Zealand it would appear more likely that younger men such as Bancroft would be the next contenders.
Bancroft had been part of the squad named for the abandoned tour of Bangladesh, and would likely have opened with Burns had that trip gone ahead, with David Warner out of action due to a fractured thumb. Burns debuted in Test cricket at No. 6 but now has the opportunity to become Warner's new opening partner, having thrived as an opener for Queensland - he averages 46.58 as a first-class opener for the Bulls.
"I guess my last two years for Queensland has been as an opening batter and I feel really comfortable and confident in that role," Burns said. "I've had some consistent success there, so it is very easy to just slide in and I guess the fact that the first game is at the Gabba, my home ground, makes it a little bit easier as well. So, it is a challenge that I'm really looking forward to; I'm excited about the prospect of opening the batting for Australia"
Burns averages 40.86 at the Gabba, which is also the adopted home ground of the now Queensland captain Khawaja. It has been an especially productive venue for Khawaja, who averages 67.46 from nine first-class matches there, and now has a chance to play his first home Test in nearly four years.
Khawaja's return to the side is all the more impressive given that last December he suffered a serious knee injury that put him out of action until the middle of this year. He said there were times during his lay-off that he wondered if his career might have been over, but now he has the chance to build the solid Test career that he has promised since his debut in 2011.
"It's massive, I'm just happy to be playing cricket again," Khawaja said. "I was thinking about it this morning and at one point I thought - with the knee injury my career might have been over. And then obviously I did a ton of work to get back. I'm just happy to be playing cricket again, it's a lot of fun. So yes it's a big bonus I think."
Brydon Coverdale is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @brydoncoverdale