Stable Australia prepare to unveil squad
For once, it should not be necessary to scour left-field. Australia's desire to carry stability and continuity into the forthcoming Ashes battle will be reflected when the national selector, John Inverarity, unveils the squad for the first Test in Brisbane on Tuesday, in a departure from the chaotic and surprising choices that characterised the start of the past two series against England.
Unlike Xavier Doherty's usurping of Nathan Hauritz in 2010, or the surprising selection of Ashton Agar ahead of Nathan Lyon at Trent Bridge earlier this year, there will be few hunches taken by Inverarity's panel, especially after the cricketers in their Ashes sights put in largely encouraging displays in the round of first-class matches that concluded on Saturday. Mitchell Johnson and George Bailey are heavily favoured to be the additions to the XI who took the field at The Oval, minus the injured Mitchell Starc.
Shane Watson's likely inability to bowl at the Gabba due to his recovery from a hamstring problem has created the only element of uncertainty around the team. As a result, the Tasmania allrounder James Faulkner is expected to keep his place in the squad after a debut in the final Test in England, with conditions then weighed up before it is decided whether to take four or five bowlers into the match.
This decision will be linked to the inclusion of a sixth batsman, with Bailey widely expected to take his place in the squad after performing creditably for Tasmania in his only Shield appearance since returning from India. Bailey's selection would be based as much on his outstanding ODI record and leadership characteristics as his recent first-class record. The elegant No. 3 batsman Alex Doolan is the other major candidate and also the most likely inclusion should Watson's recovery stall.
Ryan Harris, Peter Siddle and Lyon will form the core of the bowling attack, while Johnson and Ben Hilfenhaus are expected to fill the remaining places in the squad. Lyon's retention will make a welcome change from the spin cycle of recent years, rewarding his strong displays in the latter part of the Ashes in England. There remains some chance that the Queenslander Ben Cutting may be included as the final pace bowler ahead of Hilfenhaus following his staunch display for Australia A against England in Hobart.
Otherwise the team is shaping up far more stable fashion than it did ahead of either of the previous two Ashes bouts, something the captain, Michael Clarke, acknowledged at the launch of his Ashes Diary at the SCG. "There's no doubt there's a lot more stability in our teams … honestly I believe if they're going to pick 12 players then 11 of them are no-brainers," Clarke said. "We're looking at probably one spot to know what our first 11 or first 12 are going to be for the Gabba.
"The exciting thing where we sit right now is whether it be batters or bowlers, individual players have stood up, have performed … guys have really picked themselves, which is an impressive thing for our team. It's what Darren Lehmann and I asked our team to do, to go back to state cricket and make sure you were taking wickets or scoring runs to be in the front of the selectors' minds."
Australia changed the composition of their team for every Test match in England, but the subsequent performances of those who took part in the final match of that series has left few places in doubt. Among the batsmen, Chris Rogers, David Warner, Watson, Clarke and Steve Smith have all made runs in various formats, while each of Harris, Siddle and Lyon have been building their form to carefully tailored plans.
Clarke, who had noted Shane Warne's recent comments that he must keep working to improve the team environment, said that communication, trust and respect for differences had increased in recent months. "I think the communication within the team is outstanding at the moment, I think everybody knows where we're going, what we're trying to achieve and how we're going to get there," he said. "I think everybody knows their own personal role in the team as well, which is critical, and I think 'Boof' and myself are trying to create an environment that allows each individual to be themselves.
"In our team now we've got a great mix of some 20-year-old single boys, we've got Brad, a 36-year-old married dad with three kids, so there's a huge gap in between and it's about trying to set-up an environment that allows each individual to be themselves and feel comfortable. Part of Darren's and my job is to get the best out of each of them, and you don't do that on your own, you do that with a lot of people around you."
Possible Australia Test squad: Chris Rogers, David Warner, Shane Watson (fitness pending), Michael Clarke (capt), Steve Smith, George Bailey, Brad Haddin (wk), James Faulkner, Mitchell Johnson, Peter Siddle, Ryan Harris, Ben Hilfenhaus, Nathan Lyon
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here