Offspinner Nathan Lyon has gone from Test specialist to World Cup contender after being named in Australia's squad for the one-day tri-series in Zimbabwe later this month. Lyon has been included alongside allrounders Mitchell Marsh and Ben Cutting in the 14-man squad, while fast bowler Kane Richardson has also been recalled after playing his only ODI in January 2013.
Surprisingly, there was no room for Phillip Hughes, who last Tuesday became the first Australian ever to score a double-century in a List A match when he made an unbeaten 202 for Australia A in Darwin. Hughes had seemed the most likely replacement for David Warner, who will not make the tour as he prepares for the birth of his first child in Sydney.
Instead, the selectors went for a group heavy on all-round options rather than specialist batsmen, with Aaron Finch and Shane Watson the most likely opening combination. Steven Smith was also included, having played only two ODIs in the past two years as he, like Lyon, found himself more or less playing the role of a Test specialist.
Lyon's only two one-day international appearances came in early 2012, when he played against Sri Lanka in Adelaide and against West Indies in Kingston. However, he first emerged domestically as a Twenty20 bowler and the new chairman of selectors, Rod Marsh, said he was keen to see what Lyon could bring to the one-day side.
"Nathan has done very well in Test match cricket," Marsh said. "He first came under notice in T20 cricket, he's bowled well in last year's Ryobi Cup and I guess the unlucky one there is Xavier Doherty. But having said that we know exactly what Xavier is capable of. We're not 100% sure of what Nathan is capable of seeing as his last ODI for Australia was in the West Indies and that's a couple of years back now.
"We want to give him another opportunity before we even start talking too much about the upcoming World Cup. It's not to say that Doherty won't be in that squad but we just want to have a look at Nathan on top of some pretty good Test match form."
Lyon is the only specialist spinner in the squad, with Glenn Maxwell and Smith available as back-up options. The fast-bowling group is dominated by the left-armers Mitchell Johnson, Mitchell Starc and Faulkner, with Cutting and Richardson providing the main right-arm options, alongside the medium-pace allrounders Watson and Mitchell Marsh.
Both Cutting and Richardson were in outstanding form during the recent A-series in Darwin, with Richardson collecting 13 wickets at 11.30 and Cutting taking 12 at 18.16. Marsh was also a strong performer with 11 victims, and brings batting form after scoring 211 in a first-class Australia A match against India A in Brisbane last month.
"The thing we like most about Mitch Marsh at the moment is his bowling," Rod Marsh said. "He's capable of opening the bowling or coming on through the middle overs and can do so with good pace which is pleasing. It's the sign of a true allrounder if they can be in the side for either their bowling or batting and he is certainly getting close to that which is great for Australian cricket."
There was no room in the squad for Clint McKay, who is Australia's leading one-day wicket taker over the past three years and is fifth on the ICC's one-day bowling rankings, making him Australia's highest-ranked bowler. Marsh said McKay, Doherty and Hughes were especially unfortunate to miss out.
"We would have loved to pick Phillip but it's quite difficult to find the spot for him with a strong batting line-up," Marsh said. "He was in superb form during the recent Australia A one-day matches, including a stand-out double-century and the national selection panel will certainly be continuing to watch him closely.
"We're very aware of what both Xavier and Clint offer and both have played important roles for the ODI team and performed very well but with the World Cup edging closer we have to take opportunities to also consider players like Cutting, Lyon and Richardson who have all been pressing claims."
Shaun Marsh (elbow), Nathan Coulter-Nile (hamstring) and James Pattinson (back) were all unavailable due to injuries. The tri-series involving Australia, Zimbabwe and South Africa begins in Harare on August 25, and Australia will play each side twice before the final on September 6.
Australia squad Aaron Finch, Shane Watson, Michael Clarke (capt), George Bailey, Steven Smith, Glenn Maxwell, Brad Haddin (wk), Mitchell Marsh, James Faulkner, Mitchell Johnson, Ben Cutting, Mitchell Starc, Kane Richardson, Nathan Lyon.