In the cruellest cut to Australia's Ashes squad
, the selection chairman Trevor Hohns
has conceded that Joe Burns
' bout of post-viral fatigue, forcing him home
after just one match of a contracted stint with Lancashire in county cricket, played heavily against him in the final deliberations for choosing the 17 players to launch a defence of the urn.
Where logic could be found for the omissions of most other players, whether a poor recent run of form for Kurtis Patterson, Alex Carey's continuing presence via a Twenty20 deal with Sussex, or the conclusion that Jon Holland would simply be unlikely to be needed given Nathan Lyon's excellent record of avoiding injury, it was harder to rationalise Burns' omission.
Recalled as more or less Australia's last resort against Sri Lanka earlier this year, Burns responded by making 180 on day one of the Canberra Test
, helping Travis Head to rescue the innings from 3 for 28 to form the platform for a resounding victory.
Burns has, with the exception of the Sri Lanka series in 2016, virtually always delivered for Australia when called upon, even though he seems at times to suffer in the eyes of the selectors for lacking the outward fanaticism of a Cameron Bancroft, Marnus Labuschagne or Head. Even in the supportive words of the coach Justin Langer during that Canberra century could be found a twist: by being told to make the most of his opportunity, Burns might have been able to intuit that, even if they make the required runs, the returns of Steven Smith, David Warner and Bancroft would push him out.
Nevertheless, it was illness more than anything that left the selectors with just enough arguing room to omit Burns from the 17, while Labuschagne and Bancroft were rewarded for a combination of runs in county cricket and a demonstration in the Southampton tour game
that they had learned plenty of lessons from their time over here, in compiling two of the three highest scores of the match on an often devilish pitch. Marcus Harris, too, was fortunate, having done rather less with his Test chances so far than Burns has.
"He [Burns] hasn't done anything wrong and we ask all of our players these days if they are left to just go back and bang the door down, a little bit like Matthew Wade has done."
"It probably didn't help his cause, going home," Hohns admitted. "It would have been ideal for good preparation to put the best case forward for himself to stay and play county cricket. However, there was an issue there for him and no one can blame him for going home. He came over here, scored a hundred as did Marcus Harris, so it was a tough call that one as to which one would suit us best over here, and in the end Marcus has got the nod.
"No one has done anything wrong at all. It's just a judgement call on how people are playing at the time and what we think the requirements are. He hasn't done anything wrong and we ask all of our players these days if they are left to just go back and bang the door down, a little bit like Matthew Wade has done. He's really made a good case for himself by scoring runs and that's all we can ask them to do."
Elsewhere, the silken technique of Patterson was deemed surplus to requirements, with a dip in run-making at just the wrong time as Labuschagne, in particular, was churning it out for Glamorgan. A top score of 38 in eight innings on the Australia A tour contrasted with the hot streak that vaulted Patterson into the Test team in the first place. At 26, with many a lesson learned over the past year, his time will surely come around again.
"Desperately unlucky those two fellows but of course with the three we've just spoken about coming back in there was always going to be a squeeze on," Hohns said. "We're very comfortable with the form of Marcus Harris, very much so. He had a wonderful season back home, he's been in good form since he's been here. So he probably got the nod over Burns in that area.
"And the same can be said about the middle-order area where Kurtis Patterson operates. We have people like Travis Head who is averaging 50 in Test cricket and then of course Marnus gives us the option of A his batting and B his legspin bowling. We thought it was very important to include him."
As for the theatre of paring down 25 players to 17 with a series of individual meetings, whereupon players were sent a text message to inform them it was time to visit with Hohns and the head coach Justin Langer, the chairman agreed there were more than a few anguished reactions to events.
"Very hard for some of them because they were disappointed, but they also knew that with 25 here we couldn't pick them all," Hohns said. "Some probably knew or felt they were on the line ball, others thought they were a good chance of being included.
"So yes there were some disappointments and all we can say to those fellows is desperately unlucky, but go back, keep doing what you're doing, try to improve your game and belt the door down. We can't say much more to them, it's just the way the selection has gone, and desperately bad luck."
None more desperate than Burns, who must now wonder whether he will ever gain another chance.
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @danbrettig