Bollinger pops into first Test squad
Australia's selectors have given their first insight into the possible make-up of next year's Ashes squad in announcing their XII for the first Test against West Indies. Doug Bollinger, the left-arm paceman, has been preferred over the more seasoned Stuart Clark who, at 34, is now facing an uphill battle to force his way back into the Test side.
Australia will play ten Tests against West Indies, Pakistan and New Zealand before re-engaging with England next year, and Andrew Hilditch, Australia's chairman of selectors, admitted Thursday's announcement was made with an eye to the 2010-11 series. Shane Watson, Michael Hussey and Nathan Hauritz retained their places in the Australian squad, with the pace trio of Mitchell Johnson, Peter Siddle and Ben Hilfenhaus down to lead the attack.
"We're very confident this young group going forward will do well in this very exciting series [against West Indies] but also we're very much in preparation for the next Ashes, which is only 12 months away," Hilditch said. "Doug is at the moment bowling really, really well.
"It's a different form of the game, and you've got to be careful comparing one form of the game to the other, but he's just been very impressive when he got an opportunity in Dubai and then went to India and really came away as one of the key bowlers of that series. We think it's the right time to give him a chance.
Bollinger represents the only change from Australia's squad from the final Test at The Oval. His nine wickets at 19.33 on the recent one-day tour of India - highlighted by a haul of 5 for 35 in Guwahati - caught the eye of Hilditch's panel, which had previously granted him a Test cap for this year's Sydney Test against South Africa.
Bollinger's elevation over a fully fit Clark will raise questions as to whether the curtain has fallen on the latter's Test career. Hilditch was short of effusive when assessing Clark's Test prospects, although he did not rule out the bowler who won Man-of-the-Series honours during the last home Ashes series.
"We have very much an eye on the Ashes and if our assessment at the time is that Stuart is the best bowler for the Ashes and he's still going well, then so be it," Hilditch said. "At the moment we're preferring this bowling group."
Hilditch, meanwhile, expressed confidence in Hussey's ability in the middle order, despite a difficult 12 months in the Test arena. His fighting century in a losing cause at The Oval impressed the panel, and his ensuing form in the one-day series in India - 313 runs at 104.33 - convinced them to persist with a man once regarded as the foundation stone of the Australian innings. "The assessment is he's in good nick," Hilditch said.
The same goes for Hauritz, who held off challenges from Jason Krejza and Bryce McGain to retain his place in the Test side. So enthused were the selectors with Hauritz's recent efforts in England and India, Hilditch felt compelled to laud the strength and depth of Australia's spin bowling stocks - an unthinkable scenario at the start of the year.
"I actually think we're in a pretty good spot at the moment," he said. "Hauritz is bowling very well and getting better and better. It will be interesting to see how his confidence levels transform from one-day cricket into Test cricket. He's a very talented bowler. Krejza's made a lot of progress ... and he was definitely considered. He's bowling well. Plus there's a couple of young kids around the country we're watching closely as well."
Australia squad Simon Katich, Shane Watson, Ricky Ponting (capt), Michael Hussey, Michael Clarke, Marcus North, Brad Haddin (wk), Mitchell Johnson, Nathan Hauritz, Peter Siddle, Ben Hilfenhaus, Doug Bollinger.