Aaron Finch, who has never played Tests, and Peter Siddle, who last played in late 2016, have been included in Australia’s squad of 15 for the two-Test series in the United Arab Emirates.
Finch, now 31 and a respected and well-travelled limited-overs player, finally gets a chance to make his Test debut.
Long thought of as best suited for short-format cricket, where he has stacked up some incredible numbers over the years, Finch has had a good time with Surrey in the English county circuit of late.
His overall first-class average of 36.15 from 76 outings might not sound like much, but his experience as well as the fact that the ball might not move around too much on the tracks in the UAE made him a top pick once David Warner and Cameron Bancroft, the regular Test openers, were out of the equation.
Indeed, the sense of anticipation around the Australian Test team is due, in large measure, to the absence of Warner, Bancroft and Steve Smith, all serving bans after the ball-tampering episode in Cape Town earlier this year.
If that wasn’t enough, two of the three frontline pacemen – Josh Hazlewood and Pat Cummins – are also out of the reckoning with injuries, leading veteran paceman Siddle to say, “This is the most opportunity in one team being selected that there's ever been in the last 20 years” on the eve of the announcement of the squad, to be led by wicket-keeper batsman Tim Paine.
Siddle, a star for Essex in England, was another senior player making the cut, and if in the XI, he will play his first Test match since November 2016, when he played the last of his 62 matches in Perth against South Africa.
Peter Siddle, who last played a Test in late 2016, is set to return to the Australia side and team up with Mitchell Starc in a new-look pace attack in a new-look team.— ICC (@ICC) September 11, 2018
Australia's squad for Pakistan Tests ⬇️https://t.co/lOYWxCMDbw pic.twitter.com/qZqPfnQX4Q
"Aaron is in sensational form, and this is the right time to give him a chance to play Test cricket," Trevor Hohns, the selector, said. "He has performed well in the Sheffield Shield in recent seasons, and brings added experience and leadership to this group.
"Peter is a proven performer in the Test arena, who has been in outstanding form in his recent first-class outings over in England. His experience will be crucial for this bowling group, and we know that he is a warrior who can bowl the type of long, tight spells which may be required in the conditions we expect to face."
One of the surprises, meanwhile, was Glenn Maxwell, the experienced batsman who was thought of as a cinch to make the touring party but found his name missing from the list.
Maxwell was left out of the ‘A’ tour of India, with suggestions that it was because he didn’t have to prove himself in the subcontinent even though his Test record is a moderate one: 339 runs from seven games at 26.07, with one century. In the end, the 29-year-old failed to make the cut.
There was also no room for Burns or Peter Handscomb.
“Joe, Peter and Glenn were players we discussed when selecting the batting group, but we had to take into account the conditions and competition we are set to face in the upcoming series,” Hohns said.
"All three remain on our radar for Test cricket, but we want them to perform for their states and continue to push their case ahead of what is going to be a big Australian summer."
Matt Renshaw, the 22-year-old opening batsman who flew in to South Africa to take his place alongside Burns once Smith, Warner and Bancroft were omitted from the final Test of the series – it was also the last time Australia played Test cricket – is in the mix too, and the likely partner for Finch at the top of the order.
Also in the batting department is a fitter and hungrier Usman Khawaja, who scored a List-A century and a first-class century in Australia A’s ongoing tour of India, Shaun Marsh, Travis Head and Marnus Labuschagne.
The pace attack, meanwhile, wears a very different look too, with the fit-again Mitchell Starc getting Jhye Richardson, Brendan Doggett and Michael Neser, as well as all-rounder Mitchell Marsh, for company along with Siddle.
Across in Dubai and Abu Dhabi, the venues for the two Tests to be played in October, spinners are expected to have more of a say in the goings-on than pacers. With that in mind, Ashton Agar, the left-arm spinning all-rounder, and Jon Holland, who was outstanding in picking up nine wickets in the first four-day game against India A, have been included in the squad, which has Nathan Lyon as the frontman of the department.
Squad: Tim Paine (c), Ashton Agar, Brendan Doggett, Aaron Finch, Travis Head, Jon Holland, Usman Khawaja, Marnus Labuschagne, Nathan Lyon, Mitch Marsh, Shaun Marsh, Michael Neser, Matt Renshaw, Peter Siddle, Mitchell Starc