McDonald in, Symonds out of Ashes squad
Andrew Symonds' colourful 26-Test career appears all but over after he was omitted from Australia's 16-man Ashes touring squad. Symonds, who turns 34 next month, was overlooked in preference of younger allrounders in Shane Watson, Andrew McDonald and Marcus North for the five-Test series against England, beginning in Cardiff on July 8.
Andrew Hilditch's selection panel remained loyal to the young squad that defeated South Africa in three out of four Tests in 2009, ensuring McDonald got the nod over candidates such as Symonds and Brad Hodge. Watson, Australia's allrounder of choice on last year's tour of India, has also earned a call-up despite only recently returning to bowling after another stint on the sideline with back stress fractures.
The move to select three all-rounders and no specialist reserve batsman is a considerable risk on the part of selectors, and leaves little wriggle room if members of the top order are beset with form or injury issues in England. But it will provide Australia with added bowling options to relieve the pressure on their paceman, all of whom shouldered heavy workloads over the past 12 months, resulting in injuries to the likes of Brett Lee, Stuart Clark and Peter Siddle.
"Without a doubt this is the one of the most flexible squads we've taken away and that's something I think the selectors were really looking for," coach Tim Nielsen wrote on his blog. "Shane Watson adds plenty for us; he's played well for Australia over the last little while in the one-day arena and has shown that he can make hundreds at the top of the order and bat anywhere between one and seven. Obviously when he gets over his groin injury we expect him to be able to bowl which will add another dimension to our squad also."
The inclusions of Watson and McDonald were the only contentious calls in an otherwise predictable Australian touring party. The five-man pace contingent largely selected itself - although Doug Bollinger can consider himself a trifle unlucky - and competition will be on in earnest when the Australians commence their first tour game against Sussex at Hove on June 24. Mitchell Johnson and Lee are likely to be given first shot at the new ball, leaving Clark, Siddle and Ben Hilfenhaus to duel for the final one or two slots, depending on whether Nathan Hauritz, the specialist spinner, is played.
The make-up of the Australian top order also went to script. The top six from the tour of South Africa were all retained, and Brad Haddin, unsurprisingly, held his position. Haddin will be supported on tour by back-up wicketkeeper Graham Manou.
"The Ashes squad contains an exciting blend of experience and youth," Hilditch said. "The core of the squad is made up of the side which successfully won the Test series in South Africa and includes Phillip Hughes and Marcus North who both scored hundreds on debut.
"The young fast-bowling group which performed so well in South Africa of Peter Siddle, Mitchell Johnson and Ben Hilfenhaus will all be taking part in their first Ashes tour to England and as shown in South Africa, they have the skills to perform at the international level and will be well suited to English conditions. The bowling group has been further strengthened by the return from injury of Brett Lee and Stuart Clark."
The omission of Symonds was not entirely surprising given his recent controversial history and the strong cases presented by Watson, McDonald and North, but is notable after Ricky Ponting's glowing endorsement on the eve of the squad selection. Ponting, though, was philosophical when assessing Symonds' exclusion on Wednesday.
"I can't personally be disappointed," he said. "The facts are he (Symonds) went out of the side ... and we gave opportunities to others and they've played well enough to keep Andrew out of the squad. That's as simple as it has to be."
Squad Ricky Ponting, Michael Clarke, Stuart Clark, Brad Haddin, Nathan Hauritz, Ben Hilfenhaus, Phillip Hughes, Michael Hussey, Mitchell Johnson, Simon Katich, Brett Lee, Graham Manou, Andrew McDonald, Marcus North, Peter Siddle, Shane Watson.
Alex Brown is deputy editor of Cricinfo