Faulkner to debut, recall for Starc
James Faulkner, the bowling allrounder, will make his Test debut at The Oval on Wednesday and will bat at No.7 as the Australians search desperately for a way to end their failed Ashes campaign on a high. Faulkner and Mitchell Starc have been included for the final Test while Usman Khawaja and Jackson Bird have been dropped, and the batting order will be reshuffled to feature Shane Watson at No.3 and Brad Haddin at No.6.
The inclusion of Starc was expected but the naming of Faulkner was a major surprise given that it is Australia's batting that has been their biggest issue on this tour. Faulkner has scored 111 runs in the tour matches and has been dismissed only once, but there is no question that his bowling is his stronger suit: in 37 first-class matches, he has made eight half-centuries and is yet to register a hundred, but has 132 wickets at 22.87.
Faulkner will become the 17th player used by the Australians in this Ashes series, leaving backup wicketkeeper Matthew Wade as the only squad member not to have played a Test on the trip. He will also be Australia's 435th Test cricketer, and the 18th man to make his debut under the captaincy of Michael Clarke, who took charge only two and a half years ago. Clarke said Faulkner's fighting attitude was as much a reason for his inclusion as his record.
"As we've seen so far in this series, statistics, records, first-class performances haven't meant that much," Clarke said. "It's about finding a way on that day or over those five days to have success. I know James Faulkner has got the strength to do that whether it be with the bat or with the ball.
"Like a lot of our young players, he's a wonderful young talent. But I think he's got the toughness to mix it with any opposition in any form of the game at the highest level. He's a fighter. He's a competitor. He might not look the best all the time but he'll find a way to stay out there and help his partner go on and make a hundred, or make sure he's batting with the tail and find a way to get them through. I think he's got that in him.
"With the ball, he's extremely competitive and will find a way to take wickets, as he's done so far on this tour and in the shorter forms of the game. I think generally the better conditions are for batting, the better bowler James is, because he's at you all the time and he's extremely competitive. I think he's the right character for this team and I think you'll have a good opportunity to see just how much talent he's got in this Test match."
Faulkner will provide the Australians with a fifth seam-bowling option at The Oval, while Watson will be available to bowl despite picking up a groin injury during the Chester-le-Street Test. Watson's move to first drop will mean on this Ashes tour he has occupied the opening role, No.4 and No.6, and this year he will have batted in every position in the top six.
"Shane will be able to bowl," Clarke said. "Shane will certainly play that allrounder role once again. But I think it's an extra string to James' bow that he can bowl as many overs as possible. He's fit and strong and he'll play a big part with the ball. He adds that extra option to help us take 20 wickets.
"But I think it's the overall package that James brings: his toughness, his performances of late in whatever form of the game he's played, and the fact that he's not just a bowler, he can certainly make some very handy and crucial runs for us."
Faulkner will be the second debutant used by the Australians in the series after Ashton Agar played in the first two matches at Trent Bridge and Lord's. Agar will not be at The Oval for the final Test, though, as he will be sent home early due to illness.
"Ashton has had a mild viral illness for the past week and needs some time to rest and recuperate," team doctor Peter Brukner said. "It has been a long tour and while he has handled the pressure extremely well, we thought it would be a good idea for him to get home as soon possible to have a short break before preparing for the domestic season."
Australia: 1 Chris Rogers, 2 David Warner, 3 Shane Watson, 4 Michael Clarke (capt), 5 Steven Smith, 6 Brad Haddin (wk), 7 James Faulkner, 8 Peter Siddle, 9 Mitchell Starc, 10 Ryan Harris, 11 Nathan Lyon
Brydon Coverdale is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here