Australia made wholesale changes to the Test team as they dropped Marsh brothers Shaun and Mitchell, while calling up young batting prodigy Will Pucovski for two Tests against Sri Lanka.
Australia lost the Border-Gavaskar Trophy to India 2-1 and the margin would have been 3-1 but for rain in the Sydney Test. Australia’s batting – without the banned Steve Smith and David Warner – wilted under the pressure created by India’s bowlers as not a single Aussie batsman reached three figures.
Other batsmen who were dropped were opener Aaron Finch and middle-order bat Peter Handscomb. Top order batsman Joe Burns was recalled and is likely to open the innings with rookie Marcus Harris, who looked good against India.
Talented left-handed batsman Matt Renshaw was also given another chance. All-rounder Marnus Labuschagne retained his spot, as did Travis Head.
National selectors decided not to tinker with the pace attack of Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood and Pat Cummins, which was off the boil against India.
Pucovski was the surprise selection. The 20-year-old scored a double century for Victoria last year – the first Australian under 21 to do so since Ricky Ponting. However, he has only played eight first-class matches because of mental health issues.
“Will Pucovski is an exciting young player who is making his mark in the Sheffield Shield. He is another player with a track record of making centuries,” said Hohns. The series begins with a day-nighter in Brisbane from January 24. The second Test starts from February 1 in Canberra.
Australia squad: Joe Burns, Pat Cummins, Marcus Harris, Josh Hazlewood, Travis Head, Usman Khawaja, Marnus Labuschagne, Nathan Lyon, Tim Paine (c, wk), Will Pucovski, Matt Renshaw, Mitchell Starc, Peter Siddle
Cricket Australia XI: Joe Burns (capt), Kurtis Patterson, Scott Boland, Jake Doran, Jon Holland, Marnus Labuschagne, Michael Neser, Will Pucovski, Jason Sangha, Matt Renshaw, Chris Tremain
India captain Virat Kohli has urged Australia to respect conditions in England during the Ashes later in the year, stating patience will be the key for batsmen.
Kohli had a disastrous tour of England in 2014 where he scored only 134 runs in five Tests but reinvented his game and came back last year to pile on nearly 600 runs when no other batsman on either side came even close to scoring 400.
After India clinched the Border-Gavaskar Trophy 2-1, which could have been 3-1 but for rain in Sydney, Kohli urged Australian batsmen to take their time against the Dukes balls.
“If you go out there with an ego, you might as well not go at all,” Kohli said. “Because that Dukes ball, it buries egos pretty quickly.
“You have to curb yourself down and do the hard yards. Grind it out the whole day … you have to be patient as a batsman. There’s lot of time in Test cricket. But sometimes we are so nervous as batsmen, we don’t quite realise it.
“You just want to get away quickly but in England you’re not allowed to do that. So, you have to buy your time. And you have to earn the right to score runs eventually.
“But you have to get into a position where you should not even look at the scoreboard to see the number of balls. It’s inconsequential; patience is the only thing works there and putting runs on the board again is the most important thing to win Test matches.”
Australia batsman David Warner said he is only looking to put in good performances and leave national selection to the selectors as he continues to serve his Australian cricket ban.
Warner and Steve Smith are serving one-year bans from Cricket Australia for their role in the ball-tampering scandal in South Africa early last year. Cameron Bancroft has just returned to Australian cricket after his nine-month ban ended.
Warner, who will be leading Sylhet Sixers in the Bangladesh Premier League, said: “It is up to the selectors whether or not they want to pick me. At the end of the day, all I can do is score runs in this tournament and the IPL, keep putting my hand up and making sure that I am the best person I can be.”
Warner has been banned from Australian leadership for life but will be leading in the BPL. He said he is glad for every opportunity that comes his way.
“I am extremely grateful to be leading the side,” he said. “For me it is about making sure that we as a whole, including the support staff and management, can get the best out of the players. We have to establish our best XI when we get into the park and make sure we do the right things in training. I have to make sure I am doing my job right, which is scoring runs and leading the guys on the park.”