Adam Voges and Fawad Ahmed were the two new additions to Australia’s Test squad for the winter tour of West Indies and the Ashes thereafter.
Rod Marsh, Australia’s convenor of selectors, said Voges and Ahmed demanded selection through the dominance of this summer’s Sheffield Shield runs and wickets tallies.
The chief selector also offered his personal backing to the notion that Steve Smith’s assured performances at No 3 in the one-day team this summer should see him replace Shane Watson in that position in the Test team.
‘Personally – if you’re not asking me as chairman of selectors – I would say yes,’ Rod Marsh said on Tuesday.
‘If you ask me as chairman of selectors I’ll give you the stock-standard answer: captain set the batting order.’
Australia could field up to three debutants in the tour: Voges, Ahmed and 29-year-old New South Wales wicketkeeper Peter Nevill, who was chosen as Brad Haddin’s understudy. The 16 players will depart in mid-May for the tour, with Ryan Harris to join the squad in England once his wife has given birth to their first child.
If 35-year-old Voges is chosen to play in any of the seven Tests – two in West Indies, five in England – he would be Australia’s second-oldest debutant batsman in Test history, ranking only behind South Australian Arthur Richardson who was 36 years and 148 days when he debuted in 1924.
Western Australia captain Voges this season plundered 1358 runs at an average of 104.46. Marsh said selectors were swayed not just by the number of runs he made – the right-hander’s average was the highest of anyone to have played more than seven matches in the shield season – but the way he compiled them.
‘He had a magnificent shield season, there’s absolutely no doubt about that. I looked at him on about four or five occasions this year and I thought “I don’t know how anyone is going to get this bloke out” – he was that dominant,’ Marsh said.
‘It wasn’t only the fact he made 1300-odd runs. It was the way he made them. It was as good Sheffield Shield batting as I’ve ever seen – and I’ve seen some good stuff.’
Marsh said Voges was elevated at the expense of Joe Burns, who averaged 36.5 in his two Tests against India and ranked sixth for shield runs with 793 at 52.87, due to ‘pure weight of runs’ and his manner in doing so.
‘You could just see “Test player” written all over him. Everyone [on the selection panel] was the same. Mark Waugh saw him bat, Trevor Hohns saw him bat, I saw him bat. All the state coaches, all the state talent managers. Everyone said the same thing. Surely we can’t all be wrong.’
Victorian leg-spinner Ahmed has been rewarded for snaring 48 wickets at an average of 24.79, the most by a spinner in a decade. This included a shield-final record 8-89, a haul achieved in front of Australian selector and former leg-spinner Hohns. Ahmed was particularly accurate this season, and his performances were good enough to trump WA’s Ashton Agar, who debuted in the 2013 Ashes series, and NSW’s Stephen O’Keefe, who was Australia’s No.2 spinner for the series late last year in the United Arab Emirates against Pakistan.
Marsh said the way 33-year-old Ahmed performed was not just defined by statistics.
‘Him being a leg-spinner, a wrist-spinner as opposed to a finger-spinner, probably also gave him a slight advantage because, believe it or not, Australia is always looking for leg-spinners. We’ve had a proud history of leg-spinning in this country and we want that to continue,’ he said.
Workhorse paceman Peter Siddle will return to the squad for the two tours after falling out of favour this summer, thanks to a strong response in the shield season. Nevertheless, the fact he was also dropped from the national contract list for the first time in six years, added weight to the theory his best chance of selection will come in the difficult bowling conditions in West Indies.
The player who has overtaken Siddle in the pace and contract pecking order, Josh Hazlewood, was lauded by Marsh ahead of his first Ashes tour.
‘Personally, I think he [Hazlewood] will be a terrific bowler in England. I really think he’s one guy that I’m looking forward to seeing bowl there. I think he could be very, very good – [Glenn] McGrath-like,’ he said.
Australia Test squad for West Indies and Ashes: Michael Clarke (c), Steve Smith (vc), Fawad Ahmed, Brad Haddin, Ryan Harris (Ashes only), Josh Hazlewood, Mitchell Johnson, Nathan Lyon, Mitchell Marsh, Shaun Marsh, Peter Nevill, Chris Rogers, Peter Siddle, Mitchell Starc, Adam Voges, David Warner, Shane Watson. – smh.com.au