Australia's deplorable batting displays in Sri Lanka have apparently cost Jackson Bird a place in the Test team, after the South Australia seamer and lower order batsman Joe Mennie vaulted several other contenders to take the last place in the squad to face South Africa in the first Test at the WACA Ground.
In a call that the selection chairman Rod Marsh was moved to justify, Bird was omitted despite bowling well for Australia on his last appearance in the Tests in New Zealand in February, and being part of the squad that travelled to Sri Lanka. It was there that Steven Smith's side were repeatedly rolled by the home side's spinners, with the tail unable to pick up the slack as it often had in the past.
Declines of 5 for 66 and 5 for 21 in Kandy, 5 for 26 and 5 for 64 in Galle and 5 for 26 and 5 for 37 in Colombo recalled the days when the West Indies pace attack used to rattle through the Australian tail, leaving Marsh to suggest that Mennie's more serviceable record with the bat had squeezed him ahead of Bird.
"I talked to Jackson again this morning and I said to Jackson the thing that probably cost him a place was his batting," Marsh said in Perth. "We've got to get runs at the bottom of the order as well, particularly against a very good attack."
Mennie's inclusion followed his underwhelming start to international cricket in South Africa on the recent ODI tour. Bird had been widely expected to take the spot after being a squad member in Sri Lanka and also bowling well in New Zealand earlier in the year. The selection panel has always favoured the inclusion of a bowler to deliver long spells into the breeze in Perth, and Mennie's sterling efforts for South Australia last summer were enough to convince the panel he may be able to perform the same role in a Test match.
"[Mennie] was the best bowler in domestic cricket last summer and he continued his good work during the A series and was rewarded with a trip to South Africa," Marsh said. "He's not the greatest one day bowler, but he showed in that last one day match a little bit of the talent he has. He's a very good length bowler and that's something that in Test cricket is of paramount importance.
"He bowls well everywhere because he bowls a length. He's a dead-set professional length bowler, that's what I love about him. I think you'll find he's surprisingly quick if you talk to the batsmen around the country, he hits the bat pretty hard and once again I get back to that word. Length. No-one likes bowlers that bowl a good length."
As expected, Shaun Marsh's return to fitness from a hamstring injury saw him retained in the batting order ahead of Joe Burns, while Peter Siddle returned to the team for the first time since he withdrew injured from the Test team during the tour of New Zealand in February.
Moises Henriques was also dropped from the side that played in Colombo, as Usman Khawaja returned tot he team. Marsh was said to have edged his way past Burns by dint of hundreds in his past two Test matches, most recently the third Test against Sri Lanka in Colombo, and also a strong record in both Perth and Hobart.
"I felt desperately sorry for Joe because I saw two of the very good innings I've seen in Test cricket recently [from him] in New Zealand," Rod Marsh said. "At Christchurch he played magnificently, got 160 in the first innings and 70 in the second dig against a pretty good attack down there. But he lost his spot in Sri Lanka and Shaun got a hundred. Shaun Marsh's last two matches in Hobart and Colombo have both been hundreds."
The selectors will now wait to see how the WACA pitch shapes up for the first Test before deliberating on whether or not to include the spin of Nathan Lyon, who struggled somewhat in Sri Lanka but has an exceptional record in Australian conditions. Siddle and Mitchell Starc were both considered fit after injury-interrupted lead-ins - Starc bowling only 20 overs in the Sheffield Shield match at the Gabba to prove his recovery from a deep cut to the leg suffered in training earlier this month.
"It was necessary that they played this round of Shield cricket, that was necessary," Marsh said. "I spoke to Siddle this morning, he's bowling great, Mitchell Starc bowled 20 overs so there's nothing wrong with him, ready to go."
Test squad David Warner, Shaun Marsh, Usman Khawaja, Steven Smith (capt), Adam Voges, Mitchell Marsh, Peter Nevill (wk), Mitchell Starc, Peter Siddle, Joe Mennie, Josh Hazlewood, Nathan Lyon