Will Pucovski earns Australia call-up as Marshes and Handscomb dropped
Australia's selectors have sprung another surprise by handing a maiden Test call-up to 20-year-old Will Pucovski for the series against Sri Lanka as part of a significant batting shake-up following the loss to India where the team's highest score across four matches was 79.
Joe Burns and Matt Renshaw have been recalled amid the batting shake-up suggesting another reshuffle at the top of the order. The bowling attack, which came under pressure during the final Test against India, remains unchanged.
Shaun Marsh's Test career appears to be over after he was dumped while his brother Mitchell Marsh has also been omitted after being axed for the Sydney Test. Aaron Finch, who lost his place for the final Test against India, has been dropped and perhaps more surprisingly so has Peter Handscomb after he was brought back in Sydney.
Burns is the fifth-highest run-getter in the Sheffield Shield this season, with 472 runs for Queensland at an average of 47.20, including four fifties but no hundred. Renshaw, meanwhile, seems to have been picked on potential and past Test performances - he has a century and three fifties in 11 Tests - rather than his recent Shield form; this season, he averages 19.90 from five games this season, and hasn't made a significant score apart from an 89 against Western Australia in early November.
Pucovski has played just eight first-class matches but averages 49.00 and made 243 for Victoria against Western Australia earlier this season. However, he then took an indefinite break from the game for mental health reasons. That followed previous interruptions to his young career due to numerous blows to the head which led to lengthy bouts of concussion.
Earlier on Wednesday, before the Test squad was announced, Pucovski had spoken about what we went through during that double century in a Fox Cricket podcast.
"It was one of those things where what it looked like from the outside wasn't quite matching up with what it was on the inside… I was more confused than at any other time in my life," he told The Follow-On."I was 64 not out overnight if I remember. I got to the game to have my pre-morning hit in the nets and pulled one of the coaches, Lachie Stevens, aside and said 'look mate, this is what I'm going through. I don't really understand what's going on and don't know why it's happening but this is what's happening'.
"It was quite a confronting thing but they were beyond awesome about it… They were just so supportive from the outset. I still remember Lachie putting his arm around me and saying 'Mate, I'm shattered for you and we will get you sorted when you're back but if you can do anything to get us some runs today that would be great.'
"I replied: 'Don't worry mate. I will be ready to go and will try my very best.' Obviously it turned out to be quite a good day."
His call-up is the clearest indication yet that the selectors have decided to look to the future ahead of the Ashes later this year. By then David Warner and Steven Smith will be playing again and with Usman Khawaja locked in and Marcus Harris the rare bright spot against India there may be three batting spots available for that tour.
"There is no doubt the India series produced some disappointing results and we have now reviewed the squad ahead of the series against Sri Lanka," National selector Trevor Hohns said.
"Joe Burns has had strong performances in first-class cricket this season, and we believe he can contribute strongly if given the chance in the series.
"Matt Renshaw is a player with the ability to make big scores, and at 22 years old has 10 first-class centuries. He also performed extremely well in England during the County season. We see him as a long-term prospect as a Test player and have confidence in his ability to bounce back following a string of low scores early in the Shield season.
"Will Pucovski is an exciting young player who is making his mark in the Sheffield Shield. He is another player with a track record of making centuries. We look forward to him joining the squad and congratulate him on his first national call-up."
Burns, Renshaw and Pucovski will also play for the Cricket Australia XI in the three-day warm-up match against the Sri Lankans in Hobart. Burns will captain a team that includes Marnus Labuschagne from the Test squad and Chris Tremain who was included in the expanded party at the start of the India series.
"Ultimately Aaron, Peter, Shaun and Mitch have not produced the performances expected of them with the bat at the Test level," Hohns said. "They have been given good opportunity, but have not produced the scores we need. All four are very good players, and the door is by no means closed for them to return to play Test cricket for Australia.
"They will all feature in the ODI series against India, and each of them forms an integral part of our white-ball strategy and set-up at the moment as we also focus on our journey to the 2019 Cricket World Cup. The challenge now is for them to make runs for Australia in the upcoming ODIs, and then to go back to the Sheffield Shield and make more runs."
Test Squad Tim Paine, Josh Hazlewood, Joe Burns, Pat Cummins, Marcus Harris, Travis Head, Usman Khawaja, Marnus Labuschagne, Nathan Lyon, Will Pucovski, Matt Renshaw, Mitchell Starc, Peter Siddle
Cricket Australia XI Joe Burns (capt), Kurtis Patterson, Scott Boland, Jake Doran, Jon Holland, Marnus Labuschagne, Michael Neser, Will Pucovski, Jason Sangha, Matt Renshaw, Chris Tremain