Bailey axed, Marsh back in Test squad
George Bailey has been axed from Australia's Test squad after playing in all five Ashes victories this summer, with Shaun Marsh and Alex Doolan included for the upcoming tour of South Africa. Australia's selectors have named a 15-man squad for the three-Test tour, which begins in early February, with Marsh, Doolan, James Pattinson, Jackson Bird and James Faulkner included from outside the Ashes XI.
Bailey was the only incumbent to lose his place after his inability to make a big score in any of the five Tests against England; he finished the series with 183 runs at 26.14. A weakness outside off stump caused Bailey some problems during the Ashes and the national selector John Inverarity said that the South African conditions were unlikely to help him, where he would have had to face Dale Steyn and Vernon Philander, the top two Test bowlers in the world on the ICC rankings.
"I think George's contribution to the Ashes victory was very significant," Inverarity said. "He played an integral role there. It was a wonderful Ashes series and the 11 players knitted together really well and they were a very convincing unit. But going to South Africa, we think George is less suited to there against their attack and we've left him out and bolstered the batting with Alex Doolan and Shaun Marsh.
"[Doolan] has been on the radar for quite some time. We had him on standby in the fifth Test in Sydney and he's now come into the squad of 15. Those of us who have seen us play … he looks a very good player - good technique, time, he plays pace bowling well - so we're hoping that he'll really flourish in this environment."
Doolan, 28, is the only uncapped player in the squad and will be battling with Marsh for a place in the top six for the opening Test in Cenutrion. Doolan had a breakout Sheffield Shield season last summer but this year has managed 391 runs at 39.10. However, his Shield form has been superior to that of Marsh, who this season sits 34th on the Shield run tally with 248 runs at 31.00, including only one fifty-plus score - it was a century - from his nine innings.
Ten days ago, Marsh described his Shield form as "really inconsistent this year" and declared that there were "a lot of guys ahead of me" in the Test queue, but the selectors seem to have disagreed. Marsh has scored half-centuries in the first two ODIs against England, although Inverarity said the squad was picked before Sunday's game, and he does have South African Test experience, having played there on the 2011-12 tour.
"He's in a good space at the moment, Shaun," Inverarity said. "He's playing well. We all know that when Shaun plays at his best, he's a very good player. It seems to us that he's in that space at the moment ... That first Test match that he played in Cape Town, when Australia were eventually bowled out for a very small total. In the first innings, Michael Clarke made a century and Shaun made 44 and played exceptionally well against that attack."
Inverarity said Marsh, Doolan, Bailey and Phillip Hughes were the four contenders for two batting spots. Hughes can count himself unlucky to have missed out given that in the current Shield summer he has scored three centuries, including one double-hundred, and in his five Test appearances in South Africa he has averaged 53.00, including a score of 88 in the last Test Australia played there on the 2011-12 trip.
Hughes was dropped from the Test side after the defeat at Lord's in July, despite the fact he had made an impressively mature 81 not out in the first Test at Trent Bridge when Ashton Agar nearly scored a hundred on debut. Since his axing, Hughes has made 671 first-class runs at the average of 61.00 from 11 innings, including a double-century and two other tons this Sheffield Shield season.
Marsh, by comparison, has scored most of his runs in the shorter formats. Since he was dropped from the Test side in January 2012, he has made 675 first-class runs at 25.00.
The make-up of the attack was less tricky for the selectors, with Mitchell Johnson, Ryan Harris, Peter Siddle and Nathan Lyon all the natural choices after their success in the home Ashes campaign. The addition of Faulkner, the perennial 12th man during that series, was no surprise either, which left them choosing two backup fast men from Bird, Pattinson and Nathan Coulter-Nile.
Inverarity said it was a close call but the selectors believed Pattinson could be a valuable member of the squad if he is able to continue making good progress on his return from a back injury. Pattinson made his return to the national side during Sunday's one-day win over England at the SCG.
"He's been making very good progress during the last six weeks," Inverarity said. "Last night I thought he showed some very good signs and we've still got three or four weeks to go. He's on the upward curve and at his best he's a very good bowler."
Test squad Michael Clarke (capt), Brad Haddin (vice-capt), Jackson Bird, Alex Doolan, James Faulkner, Ryan Harris, Mitchell Johnson, Shaun Marsh, Nathan Lyon, James Pattinson, Chris Rogers, Peter Siddle, Steven Smith, David Warner, Shane Watson.
Brydon Coverdale is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here