The dust is still settling from Friday’s announcement of the first test squad, and it’s fair to say that eyebrows around the country are still raised.
That’s not to say that Trevor Hohns and his panel have picked a bad squad – it’s hard to argue with the majority of selections – but Tim Paine’s resurrection certainly caught many, if not all of the cricket community, off guard.
Hohns acknowledged that Paine is regarded as “the best gloveman in the country” in his media conference on Friday, suggesting that his selection has been on the radar for a while. Mark Waugh even flagged the possibility following the recent T20 series in India, despite conceding that he may not take the gloves for his state ahead of Matthew Wade.
But it was Steve Smith’s comments that caught my attention, and might shed some light on why Paine, 32, has returned, despite only playing one Sheffield Shield game this season, where he did not keep wicket.
“He’s a guy who’s got some incredible knowledge of the game, he’s got a great presence out there on the field and he’s a terrific gloveman,” Smith said on Friday.
“His inclusion may have come as a bit of a surprise to a lot of people but I’m excited by what he brings to the team, and I’m sure he’ll do a terrific job for us.”
In a relatively young and inexperienced squad, is this a suggestion that Smith, still early in his tenure as captain, is in need of more leadership and some senior heads in the side around him?
Paine has only four Test matches to his name so far, but with 91 first-class matches and leadership experience captaining the Hobart Hurricanes in the BBL, he may represent someone who Smith can bounce ideas off in the slip cordon.
From the most recent Ashes series in 2015, Michael Clarke, Shane Watson, Brad Haddin, Mitchell Johnson, Ryan Harris, Adam Voges and Chris Rogers have all retired, while Peter Siddle finds himself on the outer of the Test setup. That’s a whopping 447 Tests of experience out the door.
Of the squad selected for the first Test, Nathan Lyon is the most experienced, with 69 matches under his belt, closely followed by David Warner on 66. Six players have played 10 or less Test matches, including two uncapped players in Cameron Bancroft and Chadd Sayers.
Usman Khawaja and Peter Handscomb both captain their state sides when available, however, this is on the rare occasion that they are not required for national duties. Their input would certainly be valued, but Smith appears to be on his own with regards to on-field leadership.
The lack of experience may also explain why Shaun Marsh has also been recalled. At 34, some expected Marsh to be a victim of the revolution that Cricket Australia was forced to undertake following the disastrous Hobart Test last year, which saw Handscomb, Matt Renshaw and Nic Maddinson all make their debut in what was seen as the beginning of a new era for the side.
While he has been in decent touch so far this summer, averaging just under 40 with three half centuries in Sheffield Shield, other candidates, such as Glenn Maxwell and Callum Ferguson, may have had their chances reduced by a lack of Test match experience under their belt.
Marsh has only played 23 Tests himself but has been on the fringe of selection for the best part of the last seven years since his debut in 2011.
What’s also significant about the squad is the lack of all-rounder, something that the selectors have so publicly desired for so long. Hilton Cartwright’s pair against New South Wales (Australia’s) pace attack proved detrimental, whilst Maxwell was simply overlooked.
A lot rests on the shoulders of the quartet of Lyon, Mitchell Starc, Pat Cummins, Josh Hazelwood, with the occasional cameo from the skipper thrown in too.
Given the unfortunate regularity with which the Australian quicks break down with injury, along with the short turnaround between Test matches (four days), it seems odd that they would deviate from their yearn for someone who can roll the arm over as well as be trusted with the willow.
The aforementioned Sayers, along with Tasmanian Jackson Bird wait in the wings, should fast-bowling cover be required.
While we may not all agree with the decisions that the selectors have made, one thing we can all be certain of is that we are in for a cracking summer of cricket. Thursday cannot come quick enough.
Marcus Uhe is a sports journalism student at La Trobe university. You can follow him on Twitter at @_marcusuhe_