Australia’s coach Justin Langer has declared James Pattinson and Usman Khawaja certain starters for the opening Ashes Test at Edgbaston, while also consigning Josh Hazlewood, Mitchell Starc and Peter Siddle to a three-way duel for the final pace bowling spot on a dry-looking pitch and with an unpromising weather forecast.
The tourists pushed their main training session forward to Monday with its sunny skies, ahead of an expected stream of showers over the rest of the week, including once the Test begins on Thursday. Khawaja proved his recovery from a hamstring strain through a series of running drills, and spent quality time in the nets against Pattinson, who Langer effectively cleared for a first Test match since 2016 and a first Ashes match since he suffered a side strain midway through the 2013 Lord’s Test.
“Usman Khawaja will definitely be in, he’s fit, ready to go, he’s playing well,” Langer said. “He’s a seasoned pro for us, he averages 40-odd in Test cricket, his hammy’s good, he’s running well, he’s passed all the fitness tests so he’s ready to go. He’ll bat No. 3.”
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Numerous selection debates remain to be had, although Cameron Bancroft looks highly likely to return alongside David Warner at the top of the batting order, followed by Khawaja, Steven Smith, Travis Head and Matthew Wade. Mitchell Marsh is a contender also, particularly if the pitch continues to get a chance to dry further – something of an open question given that it may well spend much of the next two days under the covers.
“Like in all these selections, there’s literally a case for 17 blokes to play,” Langer said. “The opening partnership’s going to be really tough, between Cameron and Marcus Harris, really hard. They’ve both got a really strong case, and then the fast bowling spots. There’s probably three to be fair, Starcy, Peter Siddle and Josh Hazlewood, for one spot.
“It was very similar to the World Cup semi-final as well, we got here, it was the same, the grass, but it wasn’t green grass. But we still saw some life in it in that we came unstuck in the semi-final. The wicket doesn’t surprise me, that’s more what I was expecting here.
“Because the grass is so brown, there’s no green grass on it, and it’s rock hard and quite dry underneath, I don’t think [wet weather] will make much difference. I’m not a horticulturalist, but I don’t see how that’s going to get green. It might just be a bit of sweating and stuff, but I don’t think it’ll make a difference because of the colour of the grass. Probably the groundsman would give you a better answer than me.”
Pattinson’s return not only to the squad but to a position where his selection was all but confirmed three days before the first ball is clearly a source of great enjoyment for the Australian team’s planners, having guided him through numerous injuries and then radical back surgery in New Zealand in late 2017. He forms a key part of an attack that will be shuffled according to the character of the pitches and weather the tourists encounter, much as they did during the World Cup.
“Just a very, very good bowler,” Langer said of Pattinson. “I’m sure Painey will work out ways of using him, it’s just nice to see him back, it’s a great story isn’t it, coming back from where he was as a young bowler, the back surgeries, to more than likely being selected for this Test match, it’s a great story.
“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. 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 for different opposition, certainly different conditions.”
As for Bancroft, whose work at short leg was lauded by Steve Waugh, the tenacious qualities he had shown in battling back to a place in the squad, and more than likely the team, are of the sort that Langer wants to see in every member of the squad.
“Whichever ones we pick, that’s what you want from everyone, so it’s not just him,” he said. “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.”