Australia have started to show their hand for the ICC World Test Championship final against India after unveiling the group set to tackle the early stages of a bumper tour of England.
As Australia revealed a 17-player touring party, selections and omissions provide clues for their blueprint to beat India in the WTC final at The Oval, and their plan for the opening two Ashes Tests against England at Edgbaston and Lord's.
Faith in David Warner, though it comes with insurance
As predicted, David Warner has been included after missing the final two Test matches of India due to both a concussion and a hairline fracture of his elbow, though two other left-handed openers have also been named in Matthew Renshaw and Marcus Harris.
Warner found his mojo with an even 200 against South Africa at the Boxing Day Test match last year, though it is the only knock in his last 19 Test innings where he has passed 50.
The veteran opener made just 95 runs across 10 innings in the 2019 Ashes, dismissed by Stuart Broad seven times as the right-armer took to bowling around the wicket and swinging the ball away from the left-handed batter.
Batting in England has been tough for the Australian group on recent Ashes tours, with Steve Smith and Marnus Labuschagne the only players in the 2023 squad to average more than 30. Warner is next-best for Australia with an average of 26 in England, and is set to join Usman Khawaja, at least for now.
Renshaw made his case for selection through a strong Australia A tour of New Zealand and a recent run of good domestic form, while Harris is playing for Gloucestershire as part of his late run for the tour.
Harris made 59 and 148 against Glamorgan in his first County Championship appearance of the season to push his case, on top of his 601 runs across nine matches in last season's Sheffield Shield.
There was seemingly little interest for Australia opting for a right/left combination despite the frailties revealed in 2019, as Cameron Bancroft was left out of the squad.
Travis Head has licence to thrill at No.5
Even after his admirable efforts at the top of the order in India, Travis Head will almost certainly slide down to No.5, playing in a similar role that saw him race to sixth on the MRF Tyres ICC Test Batting rankings.
Head weathered top-line bowling in India while opening, most notably scoring 90 in the second innings of the Ahmedabad Test, as well as closing out a victory at Indore with a score of 49*.
The 29-year-old now boasts a Test average of 45.40, a number that has surged higher due in large part to his shift in thinking, now putting more pressure on the opposition through his attacking stroke play.
The left-hander put England to the sword in Australia’s last home Ashes campaign, blazing scores of 152 and 101 with the former score at better than a run a ball. Two scores in the 90s and a knock of 175 against the West Indies followed at the start of the Australia 2022/23 summer, with three fifties against South Africa coming later.
The omission of Peter Handscomb suggests Australia are set in their order from No.3 down to No.7, and it looks like Head has the all-clear to bat with the same freedom England have exhibited under Brendon McCullum and Ben Stokes.
Mitch Marsh on ice as a nod to Cameron Green?
Naming Mitchell Marsh in the 17-man group confirms Australia will continue with a batting all-rounder in their next three Test matches, and the selection panel can breathe easy knowing there are two dependable options for the role.
After his breakout century in India, two-metre Cameron Green could make a case for being the game’s brightest young all-rounder, having also claimed 23 Test wickets which includes a five-wicket haul against South Africa in last year’s Boxing Day Test.
Having long yearned for a capable player in the role, the selection panel have Marsh on stand-by should Green go down, though it would be remiss not to acknowledge Marsh’s match-winning abilities in his own right.
Making a century in his one Sheffield Shield appearance of the season for Western Australia, and his exploits in the recent ODI series in India, Marsh is a team luxury.
The 31-year-old's 5/46 in the final Ashes Test four years ago only nails in his credentials, and a Player of the Match performance at the ICC Men's T20 World Cup final in 2021 proves his poise under pressure.
Fast bowlers tipped to fly
The omission of Michael Neser, tipped by some to sneak into the squad as fast-bowling protection, may just hint that there are no concerns surrounding the fitness of Josh Hazlewood and Mitchell Starc.
The pair have both missed several Test matches through Achilles and finger injuries respectively, though Hazlewood is tipped to find his fitness in the IPL, and Starc came out the other end of the India tour seemingly unscathed.
Having only been deployed in the fourth and fifth Test in 2019, Mitchell Starc will need little motivation to unleash across Australia’s six matches in the UK, and Hazlewood unsurprisingly enjoys English conditions and has taken 36 wickets at 25.83 across eight Test matches.
The pair join captain Pat Cummins to form a likely fast-bowling trio, while Scott Boland, who should also relish England conditions, backs up the group.
Tearaway quick Lance Morris, who has been around the Test squad as he shows plenty of promise, was out of squad consideration due to injury.
Australia touring party
Pat Cummins (captain), Scott Boland, Alex Carey, Cameron Green, Marcus Harris, Josh Hazlewood, Travis Head, Josh Inglis, Usman Khawaja, Marnus Labuschagne, Nathan Lyon, Mitchell Marsh, Todd Murphy, Matthew Renshaw, Steve Smith (vice-captain), Mitchell Starc, David Warner