North dropped, Michael Beer in Test squad
Marcus North, Doug Bollinger and Xavier Doherty have been axed, and Australia's selectors have sprung a major surprise by naming the little-known spinner Michael Beer in their 12-man squad for the Perth Test. Phillip Hughes has been picked to replace the injured Simon Katich, while Steven Smith is a strong chance to play after no other specialist batsman was named to replace North.
Mitchell Johnson and Ben Hilfenhaus are also likely to come back in to the side in what could be a four-man pace attack with Ryan Harris and Peter Siddle, who the selectors considered the best of the bowlers in the Adelaide loss. But it's the inclusion of Beer that will raise eyebrows, especially with Nathan Hauritz fresh from a first-class century and five-wicket haul for New South Wales.
"Michael Beer replaces Xavier Doherty in the squad," Australia's chairman of selectors, Andrew Hilditch, said. "Michael is a left-arm orthodox spinner who has been very impressive at domestic level this year. He took wickets against England in the tour match earlier this summer and we expect he will bowl very well against the English on his home ground."
But Hilditch's comments seemingly ignore the fact that the WACA has been Beer's home ground for only a few months, after he moved from Victoria during the off-season. He has played only three first-class matches at the ground and in his five first-class appearances, all of which have taken place this summer, he has 16 wickets at 39.93 with a best of 3 for 39.
Beer, 26, is a left-arm orthodox bowler who plied his trade in Melbourne club cricket until the end of last season, when he moved to Western Australia in an attempt to launch his domestic career. Against the touring England side last month he 3 for 108 and 2 for 99, and the chances of him winning a place in the starting XI for the third Test must be slim.
One man who will definitely play at the WACA is Hughes, who is not in his best form but was still considered the most likely replacement for Katich, who will miss the rest of the series with an Achilles tendon injury. The pressure on Hughes will be increased after Australia altered the balance of their squad by leaving out the specialist batsman North.
North has had a disappointing start to the Ashes campaign and the strong batting form of Brad Haddin makes it likely that the wicketkeeper will move up to No. 6 with Smith at No. 7. Smith has played two Tests, against Pakistan in England in July, when he was chosen as a legspinner in the absence of the injured Hauritz, and if Beer doesn't play he will be the lead slow bowler in Perth.
"Steve Smith replaces Marcus North in the 12-man squad," Hilditch said. "This is obviously disappointing for Marcus who has played some outstanding Test innings for Australia but it was felt to be the right time to bring the exciting prospect Steve Smith into the Test team. Steve has already had success at international level and will also add to the bowling depth with his leg-spin bowling and dynamic fielding.
"Doug Bollinger has been omitted from the squad. Both Mitchell Johnson and Ben Hilfenhaus did not play in Adelaide but will be strongly considered for selection in the Perth Test match where conditions will suit them. Ryan Harris and Peter Siddle were the pick of our quicks at Adelaide Oval and these four make up the pace attack for the Perth Test match.
Squad Shane Watson, Phillip Hughes, Ricky Ponting (capt), Michael Clarke, Michael Hussey, Brad Haddin (wk), Steven Smith, Mitchell Johnson, Ryan Harris, Peter Siddle, Michael Beer, Ben Hilfenhaus.
Brydon Coverdale is an assistant editor at Cricinfo