Lyon the bolter in Australia's Test squad
The offspinner Nathan Lyon is the bolter in Australia's 15-man squad for the Test series in Sri Lanka, which also includes the incumbent spinner Michael Beer. The pair will fight for the slow-bowling position for the first Test in Galle, after the selectors sprung another surprise by omitting the allrounder Steven Smith.
The uncapped fast bowlers, Trent Copeland and James Pattinson, also made the cut, while Ben Hilfenhaus missed out following a disappointing Ashes campaign. As expected, Ryan Harris was named after recovering from injury, and he looms as a key part of a pace attack whose most experienced members are Mitchell Johnson and Peter Siddle.
The selectors found room for both Shaun Marsh and Usman Khawaja, who are likely to battle for the No. 6 position. However, the major surprise came in the spin department, where Jason Krejza's poor Australia A tour to Zimbabwe cost him a certain call-up, and resulted in the selectors naming two men without Cricket Australia contracts.
Beer played the final Ashes Test in Sydney and although he only took one wicket, the selectors were encouraged by the way he bowled. The more remarkable selection was that of the South Australian Lyon, 23, who has played only four first-class matches and was not part of Australia A's four-day squad in Zimbabwe.
"Michael Beer retains his position in the squad following his debut in Sydney during the fifth Ashes Test where he bowled well, without much luck," the chairman of selectors, Andrew Hilditch, said. "It will be an important tour for Michael on grounds where we expect spin to play a major role.
"The squad also sees the inclusion of Nathan Lyon, a talented young spinner who impressed all last season and bowled extremely well on Australia A's tour of Zimbabwe. Nathan may be a surprise selection, but he impressed all who have seen him in the last year and bowled beautifully during the one-day component of the A squad's recent tour where he was named player of the series.
"He is a young man with immense potential and we feel he will take this opportunity should he get the chance to play in Sri Lanka. Steven Smith is unlucky to have missed selection in this squad. We continue to see him as player of the future for Australia in all forms of the game but at this stage we do not feel he has cemented his position as a batsman in the top six or as a legspin bowler.
"We feel he needs to continue to develop as a genuine allrounder in the shorter forms of the game and play more long-form cricket for New South Wales to push again for Test selection.
Hilditch also said Krejza, who was preferred to Beer for a central contract this year, had fallen out of contention due to his poor results in Zimbabwe. He took six wickets at 41.33 in the two first-class games in Zimbabwe but struggled severely during a two-day tour match in which he took 0 for 96 from 19 overs, while Beer grabbed a six-wicket haul.
"The intention of the national selection panel was to take Jason Krejza to Sri Lanka provided he proved he was bowling at his best," Hilditch said. "He has had very limited opportunities in Sheffield Shield cricket so the Zimbabwe tour was very important for him. Unfortunately Jason did not bowl as well as we, or I am sure he, would have liked during this tour and therefore he has not been rewarded with selection."
There is also inexperience in the pace group, although Johnson, Siddle and Harris are the front-runners to play in the first Test. But they will feel the pressure from Copeland, 25, who has been an outstanding performer for New South Wales since his first-class debut early last year, and the 21-year old Pattinson from Victoria.
"Trent has earned his position with some fine performances for New South Wales and has bowled very well on the Australia A tour," Hilditch said. "James is a young fast bowler with the potential to play an important role for Australia in all three forms of the game and we look forward to watching his further development during this tour.
"Ben Hilfenhaus did not have as good an Ashes series as he would have liked and we feel he needs to get back to his best, swinging the ball late and hitting the bat hard. We are sure he will do this and he will be very much in contention for selection on the upcoming tour to South Africa. Doug Bollinger has been left out of the Test squad. The NSP feels he needs to improve his ability to bowl spells at full intensity and maintain it over the course of a match, particularly in these days of back-to-back Tests."
The batting was a little more clear cut, given the axing of Simon Katich from the contract list. Phillip Hughes will open with Shane Watson and the Western Australia batsman Shaun Marsh will push for his first baggy green.
"Shaun Marsh comes into the Australian Test squad and has been in our minds for some time as a player who could have a real impact at international level in all forms of the game," Hilditch said. "Injury impacted at critical times last year however he has worked hard and is in our view ready to seize this opportunity."
Test squad: Shane Watson, Phillip Hughes, Ricky Ponting, Michael Clarke (capt), Michael Hussey, Usman Khawaja, Shaun Marsh, Brad Haddin (wk), Mitchell Johnson, Ryan Harris, Peter Siddle, Trent Copeland, James Pattinson, Nathan Lyon, Michael Beer