Marcus Harris returns, Travis Head, Scott Boland

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Sportem
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Australia will be eager to move on from its T20 World Cup disappointment and has now dropped both its next ODI and Test squads.

Tuesday was always scheduled as the date the squads would be named, Cricket Australia says, but the timing is handy, even if it’s totally coincidental.

There’s no better way to change the narrative and get people talking about the next challenge than a squad announcement.

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The heat has been rising on the Australians with questions being demanded over how it failed to reach the semi finals in a T20 World Cup on home soil.

Australia has been accused of lacking intensity while Glenn Maxwell’s comments that an early elimination “doesn’t mean anything” have raised eyebrows.

Maxwell’s point was that cricket moves on awfully quickly and, with Tuesday’s squad announcement, selectors have helped him back up that point.

The ODI squad announcement didn’t come as a surprise given the first match against England is just around the corner on November 17.

The Test squad, however, will have caught a few off guard, even though CA says it was on schedule.

Australia doesn’t face the West Indies until November 30 and has three ODIs to play before then.

What’s more is that there are still two Sheffield Shield rounds to be completed between November 10 and November 27.

Why deem so many first class fixtures as effectively irrelevant in terms of the Test discussion?

Either way, it will help quieten talk around Australia’s T20 World Cup, which can only help the current group.

Scroll down for more Talking Points from Australia’s Test squad announcement!

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HARRIS ASHES HOPES ALIVE

Marcus Harris has forced his way back into yet another Test squad, making it clear that his hopes of another Ashes campaign are alive.

His doubters will point to the fact that he’s had multiple cracks in Australia’s XI, at home and away, and has never made a go of it. His average of 25.29 from 26 Test innings makes for ugly reading.

Nonetheless, there can be no denying that whenever Harris returns to domestic level he piles on the runs.

His first class average from 245 innings is 39.83, which includes 23 centuries and 37 fifties. Most recently, he’s made 287 runs at 57.40 for Victoria in this season’s Sheffield Shield.

It simply makes it hard to keep him completely away.

Now Harris has some runs in England to his name, too, which has put him back in the selection frame with an away Ashes on the horizon.

The opener had a strong stint with Gloucestershire in this year’s County Championship, making 727 runs at 45.3.

Marcus Harris has forced his way back into yet another Test squad.Source: Getty Images

Australia desperately needs an opener who can stand up to the Duke’s ball in English conditions next year.

Last away Ashes in 2019, David Warner averaged 9.50, Cameron Bancroft 11.00, while Harris himself was poor with 58 runs at 9.66.

He’ll be eager to prove he’s a different player to what he was then.

Despite making Australia’s 13-man squad, however, he will likely be forced to wait for his chance since Usman Khawaja replaced him at the top of the order.

Khawaja is a lock for some time yet, while Travis Head is expected to retain his spot in the middle of the order given his dominance last home summer.

HEAD UNDER PRESSURE

As mentioned, Head is almost certain to bat at No.5 for the first Test having been named player-of-the-series in last summer’s Ashes.

Selectors are highly unlikely to leave out the left-hander after he made two centuries and averaged 59.50 from four Tests.

Nonetheless, poor performances in Pakistan and Sri Lanka since, as well as a lacklustre start to the Sheffield Shield season, have suddenly put him back under pressure.

Since making a century on a green seamer in Hobart in January, Head has made only 291 runs at under 20 from 17 first class innings.

There are chiefly concerns around his ability in away conditions, particularly on the subcontinent.

In Pakistan he averaged 22.66, and in Sri Lanka just 7.66. It puts him directly in the firing line for Australia’s tour of India in February when spin is expected to play a big role.

There’s far more confidence in Head’s ability at home, although his Sheffield Shield numbers will have him feeling some pressure heading into the first Test.

Head’s average from the first three rounds is just 21.40, and his last five scores are 6, 5, 0, 8 and 12.

Poor performances in Pakistan and Sri Lanka have put Head under pressure.Source: AFP

Should Head’s form not improve during the Test summer, selectors could be tempted to make a change with one eye on the looming India series.

Peter Handscomb is one player Head will be looking over his shoulder at with the Victorian making a mountain of runs in the Sheffield Shield.

He has a massive 518 runs at 172.66 — which includes an unbeaten 281 — this season, while he was also the top scorer last season with 697 runs at 49.78.

Apart from the impressive numbers, Handscomb is considered a stronger player of spin and has the benefit of having been a part of Australia’s last tour of India.

Another contender who was also a part of that tour is Queensland’s’s Matthew Renshaw, averaging 80.66 in the Shield.

BOLAND IN TEST FRAME AGAIN AS SHOOTOUT LOOMS

Scott Boland knocked over England without much of a sweat last summer, but can he knock over one of his own?

The away tours of Pakistan and Sri Lanka revealed much about the pecking order of the Australian team.

After injury to Josh Hazlewood and Covid-19 close contact laws ruled Pat Cummins out of Tests against England, Michael Neser, Jhye Richardson and Boland were given opportunities throughout the Ashes.

But when Hazlewood recovered he returned in time for the 1-0 series win over Pakistan.

Interestingly, the right-arm quick was left out when Australia went in with two specialist quicks, with Cameron Green’s more-than-handy medium pace used as a third bowling option.

All the while Boland was waiting on the pine, forced to carry the drinks for five straight Tests.

The 33-year-old, however, remains the fourth seam option in the squad.

Scott Boland is back in the mix.Source: The Weekend Australian Magazine

Could he usurp either Mitchell Starc or Hazlewood?

In all likelihood, no, but recent Australia selections suggest neither are as nailed on as they once were.

Boland was brought in as an MCG specialist and with the opening two Tests of the summer against the West Indies in Brisbane and Adelaide, Boland will likely have to bide his time.

Boland’s numbers have been solid rather than spectacular during the opening few matches of the Sheffield Shield season, where he has seven wickets at 29.

They won’t be enough to squeeze him in the Test XI, but after a taxing year, including a mountain of T20 matches, his inclusion in the squad means he will likely come into consideration later in the Test summer, with three matches in quick succession against the Proteas.

Could it be a MCG return?

You wouldn’t rule it out.

After all, Australia’s selectors already made a cutthroat call to axe Starc from their final Group 1 T20 World Cup match against Afghanistan.

While Starc’s axing was criticised widely from the moment he was not seen marking his run up at the Adelaide Oval, his pace has dropped in recent years and it led to him losing the new ball duties throughout the failed World Cup.

There’s also the matter of potential fatigue for Starc and Hazlewood. Both were heavily involved in white ball series in August and September, the T20 World Cup, and will play in this month’s three ODIs against England.

Boland, meanwhile, will be fresh and waiting to go.

Therefore, you can’t consider Boland too far away from forcing himself in early, although the Boxing Day Test remains his strongest chance.

AXED ASHES TRIO

Michael Neser and Jhye Richardson led Australia to victory in Adelaide last year but haven’t found their way into a reduced 13-man Test squad.

Spinner Mitch Swepson has been left out, too.

All three were included in Australia’s Ashes squad and have been regulars within the wider squad for years.

Richardson’s pace, ability to swing the ball, success on the international stage and age profile have many thinking he is one of Australia’s best quicks.

He is, but injury has hurt his chances of playing more than he has.

After going wicketless on the Junction Oval road in Victoria in one innings, Richardson took six wickets in the match against Queensland and averages 22.83 from three innings.

Jhye Richardson bowled Australia to victory against England at Adelaide Oval in his one Test during the Ashes last summer. Photo: Getty ImagesSource: Getty Images

Neser, meanwhile, has been one of the bright lights from the opening stages of the Shield season, taking 15 wickets at 14.73, to be second on the leading wicket-takers list behind teammate Mark Steketee. 

He also has more runs than Usman Khawaja and Travis Head, hitting 204 runs at 51 with a top score of 136.

As for Swepson, the Australian leg-spinner, who debuted against Pakistan and also played against Sri Lanka, has eight wickets (all against NSW) at 25.25 from three innings.

Those numbers are important for the leg-spinner because with a tour of India on the horizon, he needs to continue to take wickets to stand a chance in a region notoriously tough for leg-spin bowling.

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