George Bailey is set to become Australia's 436th Test cricketer after beating his fellow Tasmanian Alex Doolan for the final batting place in the squad for the first Ashes Test at the Gabba. Bailey has been included in Australia's 12-man squad despite his disappointing first-class form over the past year, as the selectors instead backed his strong efforts in one-day internationals, including as captain on last month's tour of India.
The allrounder James Faulkner has also been included as expected, as has the fast bowler Mitchell Johnson, who is likely to share the pace duties with Ryan Harris and Peter Siddle, while Nathan Lyon retained his position as the lead spinner. Shane Watson has been chosen despite suffering a hamstring injury at the end of the Indian tour and the selectors are hopeful he will be able to bowl, which gives them a range of options regarding the balance of the team.
Although batting the vice-captain Brad Haddin at No.6 and Faulkner at 7 would be a possibility, as in the final Test at The Oval this year, the likely scenario is that Bailey will fill the No.6 position on debut at the Gabba. During a first-class career that has spanned ten seasons, Bailey, 31, has scored 6011 runs at 38.28, including 14 centuries, but his lack of red-ball form last season initially seemed to have hurt his chances of a Test call-up.
For Tasmania last year, Bailey scored only 256 Sheffield Shield runs at 18.28 and he later conceded that he had struggled significantly with the constant demands of changing formats. However, the national selector John Inverarity noted Bailey's form the previous summer, when he had made 697 Shield runs at 58.08, and it also helped that since Bailey's ODI debut in March last year only India's Virat Kohli has scored more ODI runs than his 1539 at 54.96.
"It was certainly discussed at great length last night," Inverarity said of the decision between Bailey and Doolan. "Alex Doolan is a very highly-regarded player in our eyes ... George Bailey has been in fantastic form with the bat. His confidence is riding high. His performance in international one-day cricket has been quite extraordinary and he's very deserving of his opportunity."
Australia's T20 international captain since his debut in the format in February last year, Bailey has impressed the selectors in the shorter formats not only with his run-scoring but also his calm, intelligent leadership. Although there was no place for Doolan in this squad, he appears the batsman most likely to be included if another opportunity comes up during the Ashes, after his impressive 2012-13 and strong start to this summer.
Apart from the inclusion of Bailey in the 12, the only other change to the side that played at The Oval was the absence of the injured Mitchell Starc, who has been replaced by his fellow left-armer Johnson. At 32, Johnson is set to embark on his third Ashes series and the selectors hope he can make the England batsmen jump, as he did during the ODIs that followed this year's Ashes, while also demonstrating improved control.
"I think he's bowling a lot more consistent at the moment," the captain Michael Clarke said. "His pace is certainly high, which is a great start. But it doesn't matter how fast you bowl, if you don't know where they're going it's always easy to face as a batsman. I think Mitch has that control. He showed that in the one-day format. I said a couple of days ago if Mitch was selected in this squad, it wouldn't surprise me if in a couple of months' time you see Mitch being Man of the Series."
Whether Johnson is one of four or five bowlers remains to be seen, but the Australians are hopeful Watson will be able to contribute some overs despite struggling with a hamstring problem he picked up on the ODI tour of India. Watson is expected to bat at No.3, after finishing the Ashes in England with a century at first drop at The Oval, and Inverarity is confident that will not be all he can do for the team.
"We're hoping that he'll be able to bowl," Inverarity said. "We're not sure the extent to which he'll be able to bowl. He's progressing very well and he'll certainly be fit to play. We believe he's likely to be able to bowl. But it's nine days to go, so we can't give a definitive answer on that."
Watson's fitness to bowl could determine whether there is a place for the allrounder Faulkner, who performed well on debut at The Oval and also made his maiden ODI century in India earlier this month. Inverarity said Faulkner was a player the selectors hoped could offer plenty to the Test team in the future.
"He has been a cricketer we've had our eye on for a long time," he said. "He impresses us with his batting and with his bowling and with his attitude, and his uncanny ability to have an impact on almost every game he plays. If you give him the ball, he always seems to be able to conjure up a wicket, when he goes out to bat he has the knack of forming a partnership ... we have high hopes for him."
Squad Chris Rogers, David Warner, Shane Watson, Michael Clarke (capt), Steve Smith, George Bailey, Brad Haddin (wk, vice-capt), James Faulkner, Mitchell Johnson, Peter Siddle, Ryan Harris, Nathan Lyon.