Usman Khawaja and Travis Head have been named in a 15-man Australia squad for the first two Tests of the upcoming Ashes series, after selectors left the door open to both players to make the final cut for next month’s opener against England.
The pair are now likely fight it out in a practice match in Brisbane between Australia and an A team, starting on 1 December, to win the No 5 spot vacated by Matthew Wade in Tim Paine’s side.
Khawaja’s last Test appearance for Australia came during the 2019 Ashes series but his scintillating start to this year’s Shield – he tops the run charts after hitting back-to-back centuries, including a 174 against South Australia last month – prompted his return to the fold.
“Usman Khawaja has been in great touch. He brings a calm, consistent and experienced component to the batting line-up and is a proven run-scorer at Test level,” chairman of selectors George Bailey said. “He also has the ability to bat across a range of positions in the batting order.
Khawaja said he was excited after getting the phone call from Bailey on Tuesday morning, but he tempered that with a touch of realism.
“Playing for Australia is always an honour and being selected in the 15-man squad is obviously an honour too,” he said. “I’m excited but it’s still business as usual – we’re still in the middle of the season – so you can’t get too far ahead of yourself.
“There’s an opportunity in the middle order there and that’s probably where it’s at. Whether I play or not will just depend on the selectors.”
Head also started the domestic season in good nick, but has fallen away slightly in recent outings, scoring just one half-century in his last six innings.
“Travis finished last summer strongly, second only to Cameron Green for runs scored, and has again started the season well,” Bailey said. “He drives the game forward and can put the opposition under pressure with his ability to score quickly.”
Otherwise, the team to face England’s tourists at the Gabba from 8 December and then in Adelaide for the day-night Test starting on 16 December appears to be settled, with incumbent Test opener Marcus Harris to partner David Warner at the top of the order.
Harris’s development at Leicestershire over the winter convinced selectors to retain him at the top of the order, Bailey said. “He is a good player who will be looking to build a strong partnership with David Warner at the top of the order,” he said.
At the other end of the team sheet, pace trio Pat Cummins, Josh Hazlewood and Mitchell Starc will only be displaced in the event of injury or fitness concerns, with Jhye Richardson the quick most likely to step in if needed.
Richardson was included alongside uncapped fast bowler Michael Neser and legspinner Mitchell Swepson in a squad that was well-balanced, Bailey said, with a “mix of experienced, proven performers and emerging, developing talent”.
A total of six players from the T20 World Cup-winning team – who only arrived back in Australia on Tuesday – feature in the squad, and Cummins expects the confidence off the back of Australia’s success in the 20-over format to flow into the red-ball series.
“Absolutely, I think we’ll take confidence from it,” the Test vice-captain said. “It’s a different format but you saw somebody like Davey Warner, player of the tournament, that’s going to have huge confidence for him going into the summer.
“As an Australian side, I think we all probably felt like we’ve underperformed a little bit in the last few years, haven’t won as many games as we’d probably expect.
“So to get back out and win a title on the world stage … it can be era-defining for a side. So everyone’s just absolutely buzzing, really excited for what’s next.”
Mitch Marsh’s T20 World Cup heroics in the UAE were not enough to see him make the cut, but he features on the Australia A list for the practice match, alongside the likes of Sean Abbott, Ashton Agar and Josh Inglis.
The 15-man squad selected for the opening two matches will be reassessed for the Boxing Day Test at the MCG and beyond to Sydney and Perth.
Australia’s 15-man Test squad: David Warner, Marcus Harris, Marnus Labuschagne, Steve Smith, Travis Head, Usman Khawaja, Cameron Green, Tim Paine (captain), Pat Cummins, Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood, Nathan Lyon, Jhye Richardson, Michael Neser, Mitchell Swepson.
Australia A top-up players for tour game: Sean Abbott, Ashton Agar, Scott Boland, Alex Carey, Henry Hunt, Josh Inglis, Nic Maddinson, Mitch Marsh, Matthew Renshaw, Mark Steketee, Bryce Street.