Hohns rings changes to cover McGrath
Glenn McGrath's absence has forced Australia's selectors into a major reworking of the bowling attack for the three back-to-back Tests against South Africa starting next week. Instead of praying for one player to mirror McGrath's world-class performances, Trevor Hohns's selection panel decided to create a line-up capable of covering any conditions with a mixture of the old, new and settled in today's 14-man squad.
Brett Lee is the only permanent Australian fast bowler after Michael Kasprowicz earned a recall for his all-terrain efforts and Shaun Tait's "bit of oomph" secured him a back-up spot despite still being unable to throw after shoulder surgery. Stuart MacGill takes his place one seat behind Shane Warne, Stuart Clark's similarities to McGrath were considered essential to the squad and Andrew Symonds's mix of medium-pace and offspin complete the heavy list of options.
With flexibility so desirable, the obvious omission was the left-armer Nathan Bracken, but his lack of swing in the current one-day series was crucial. "He can consider himself unlucky," Hohns said in Brisbane. "We were looking for someone with a little more penetration. McGrath is almost impossible to replace so we had to look for a squad of fast bowlers to replace him."
Kasprowicz, who will push Clark for the No. 2 duties in the first Test on March 16, impressed with his variation in leading the Pura Cup wicket list with 44 at 23.13 and finished ahead of his former team-mate Jason Gillespie. "Michael has been bowling fractionally better than Jason but it could have been an either-or call," Hohns said. "He's been doing well in all sorts of conditions and is ready after losing form in England. Shaun offers that bit of oomph and if required he can provide some extra punch."
After speaking about his emotional return - he was happy to be back but sad for McGrath, who is caring for his sick wife Jane - Kasprowicz talked with Trevor Hohns outside Queensland Cricket's headquarters for the first time since the final Ashes Test last September. "I think it's protocol now that Michael Brown [Cricket Australia's operations manager] lets you know when you're in and Trevor lets you know when you're out," Kasprowicz, who is eyeing a tenth Test recall, said.
The side has a distinct 2005 feel with the addition of Tait, Damien Martyn and Michael Clarke, and Kasprowicz was ready for an "Ashes reunion". "I never thought that was it after England," he said. "If I felt my performances had started to slip then maybe [my international career was over], but I didn't feel like that."
While Kasprowicz's state numbers this summer were impressive, Martyn was picked on a hunch ahead of Hodge, who was devastated by his omission two Tests after collecting a double-century against South Africa. Martyn's experience swayed the selectors just five months after he seemed headed for a full-time break, and he has an unexpected chance to add to his 61 matches and 12 hundreds.
"He's been chosen in the squad to start at No. 4 - it's a judgment call," Hohns said. "He always looks as if he's batting well and this tour is going to be a tough one." Clarke was preferred as the spare batsman after Hohns said "he'd done everything asked of him".
Hodge averaged an extraordinary 58.42 in his first five Tests and expected to hold his spot, but he failed to make a four-day century for Victoria and there were also suspicions over his driving technique outside off stump. "I'm obviously devastated at the decision," Hodge said. "I felt I had performed well enough in my initial Tests to retain my place, but I expect disappointment as part of my job."
Australia squad Matthew Hayden, Justin Langer, Ricky Ponting (capt), Michael Clarke, Damien Martyn, Michael Hussey, Andrew Symonds, Adam Gilchrist (wk), Shane Warne, Brett Lee, Michael Kasprowicz, Stuart MacGill, Stuart Clark, Shaun Tait.
Peter English is the Australasian editor of Cricinfo