Australia head coach Justin Langer has confirmed that Pat Cummins and James Pattinson will form Australia’s lead pace pair in Birmingham with one of Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood and Peter Siddle to fill up the third slot. He also revealed that Usman Khawaja had passed his fitness tests and was a sure starter for the opening Test that starts at Edgbaston on Thursday (August 1).“We’ll talk to the boys in the next day or so and try and solidify the 12 anyway, so everyone’s really clear where we’re at. There’s probably three to be fair, Starcy, Peter Siddle and Josh Hazlewood for one spot. Three pretty good players to try to find a spot for, I reckon,” he said.
There’s been a significant buzz around Pattinson ever since he returned to full fitness and was inevitably back taking wickets in shield cricket. And it looked rather obvious that the Victorian pacer would get the nod while Cummins has been, by far, Australia’s best Test pacer over the last 18 months. And with the amount of experience Siddle has in English conditions – he has taken 71 wickets at an average of less than 20 across two seasons for Essex – he could come through ahead of Starc and Hazlewood, who’ve been Australia’s new-ball pair for nearly four years now.Siddle also outbowled the pair during the warm-up game in Southampton with Hazlewood still feeling his way back in after a lengthy injury layoff and Starc still finding his Test bowling rhythm after a remarkable World Cup campaign with the ball.
Langer though was quick to quash suggestions that the fast bowlers would be “rotated” during the Ashes and insisted that the “best three” would be picked for each match based on conditions.“They won’t be rotated as such, like in the World Cup we’ll pick the best three or four for every game we play. Lord’s is very different to here, Old Trafford’s going to be different, so that’s how,” he said. “We won’t rotate them per se, but we’ll just pick the best three, probably not four, but three for every game. It won’t be different opposition, certainly different conditions.”
The only other major decision that Langer and the selectors need to take with regards to the playing XI would be at the top of the order as to who opens with the returning David Warner. Marcus Harris could be the front-runner, having opened in the last six Tests that Australia played, all at home, and having stood up to the very incisive Indian pace attack. But then there’s Cameron Bancroft who was by far the most successful batsman in Shield cricket during the Dukes ball part of the season – at the start of this year – and also looked the most at ease on the torrid pitch at Southampton.
“I think the opening partnerships’ going to be really hard. Like in all these selections, there’s literally a case for 17 blokes to play. The opening partnership’s going to be really tough, between Cameron and Marcus Harris, really hard. They’ve both got a really strong case,” he said.
Langer, who built a legendary Test career based on his tenacity and the will to stay out in the middle regardless of conditions or situations, also raved about the similar skills that Bancroft had shown in his return.
“You like that in all Australian cricketers actually, that tenacity and that fight. Whichever ones we pick, that’s what you want from everyone, so it’s not just him. I think Matthew Wade’s fought his way back into selection because of that tenacity to keep getting better and he’s knocked so hard on the door. You see it, if Steve Smith averages 60 it shows a bit of tenacity, David Warner’s the same. You want it from all of the players, not just him,” he said.