Cameron White has been dumped as Australia's Twenty20 captain and replaced by George Bailey for the two matches against India next week. And Australia's selectors have announced the surprise recall of the 40-year-old spinner Brad Hogg, who made a T20 comeback this summer and has been the standout slow bowler in the Big Bash League
In a major shake-up eight months before the ICC World Twenty20, the new selection panel under John Inverarity has sent a clear message that the T20 side needed refreshment. Australia made the final of the 2010 World T20, but since then they have lost seven matches and won only two, and sit fifth on the ICC rankings behind England, New Zealand, Sri Lanka and South Africa.
The appointment of White as captain when Michael Clarke retired from the format last January was made by Andrew Hilditch's selection panel with a view to building towards this year's World T20, to be held in Sri Lanka in September. However, White made just 55 runs at an average of 7.85 in the BBL this season and Inverarity's panel has made the change with at least four matches on Australia's schedule before the World T20.
Bailey, the captain of Tasmania and a team-mate of White at the Melbourne Stars, has not been in outstanding form either, having scored 114 runs at 19. However, he was viewed by the selectors as the right man to lead the side, with David Warner his vice-captain, while the Test vice-captain Shane Watson was not considered for the two games against India due to his ongoing injury problems.
"The Australian T20 team has been ranked a rather disappointing sixth in the world and we've certainly considered that the team needs refreshment," Inverarity said in announcing the squad in Melbourne on Monday. "It would be fair to say the national selection panel has been discussing this T20 squad for six or seven weeks.
"If you look at [Bailey's] record as captain ... I'm of the view that Tasmania have done particularly well in recent years because of the leadership they've had, the well-defined leadership of Daniel Marsh and ... then George has taken over. Last season they won the Shield under George, the year before they won the one-day competition under George. The results are there.
"He's widely respected throughout Australia. Those who play with him regard him very highly as a captain and as a leader. We've seen from Michael Clarke's leadership, he has done very well not least because of his astute decision making on the field and George certainly has that too."
The decision means Bailey, 29, will play his first match for Australia in any format next week, and he will do it as captain. Bailey has been part of an Australian squad in the past - he was called up for the ODIs in New Zealand in early 2010 when Clarke returned home for personal reasons - but did not win a cap.
"It has [come out of the blue] in some ways but it's something I feel like I'm ready to do and I'm very excited by," Bailey said. "I think once you have been captain and played in the team for a little while, any time you're on the field you're always thinking. I haven't captained during this Big Bash but even so I've always been thinking about what I'd be doing in similar circumstances, who I'd be bowling and field placements and things like that. I don't think that part of you ever goes away."
When he walks out as leader for the T20 at Sydney's Stadium Australia next Wednesday and the match at the MCG two days later, Bailey will be in charge of a new-look side. The fast-bowling allrounder James Faulkner will be in line for his debut, while the batsman Travis Birt has earned a recall nearly two years after his last international appearance.
But the big talking point, besides the captaincy, was the recall of Hogg, whose left-arm wrist-spin has been a major reason the Perth Scorchers have made the BBL final. Hogg retired from all cricket four years ago but made his T20 comeback this summer, and Inverarity said if all went well, Hogg would be part of Australia's squad at the World T20 in spinning conditions in Sri Lanka this year.
"In my conversation with Brad it was that it would be the World Cup and that if he was selected our interest with him wouldn't go beyond that," Inverarity said. "Of course it could change. But that's the general intention ... Two months ago we probably weren't thinking about Brad Hogg. [BBL] games have changed when he's come on to bowl. He has been outstanding."
The inclusion of Hogg meant there was no room for Steven Smith or Steve O'Keefe, two slow bowlers who had been part of the T20 side in recent months. Xavier Doherty was the other specialist spinner named to take on India. Brett Lee, Clint McKay and Daniel Christian will round out the attack, while Matthew Wade was not surprisingly named as the wicketkeeper.
Michael Hussey was not named in the squad but Inverarity clarified that his exclusion was a workload issue. Hussey almost singlehandedly blasted Australia into the final of the World T20 in 2010 with a brilliant innings in the semi-final, and although he has not played a T20 international in a year and a half, he is expected to be part of the squad when Australia play two matches in the Caribbean in late March.
"Mike is being rested for this," Inverarity said. "Mike has had a pretty gruelling schedule of Test matches - Sri Lanka, South Africa, New Zealand and India. I had a chat to Mike in Perth about a week ago and we're looking to give him a little bit of a break here, and probably in the early stages of the ODIs so he comes out fresh. We're also keen to try some of these younger players. But at this stage there'd be no doubt that Mike Hussey would be playing in the T20s in the West Indies."