Bailey likely to bat 6th in 1st Ashes test
BRISBANE, Australia (AP) — Australian selectors have gambled on two 30-something veterans to fill voids in the lineup for the first Ashes test against England, including batsman George Bailey in the 12-man squad for the first time and recalling Mitchell Johnson to join the pace attack.
Bailey, who led Australia on its recent limited-overs tour to India, is likely to bat at No. 6 in the series-opener at the Gabba next week. Johnson, a 51-test veteran, is expected to join Ryan Harris and Peter Siddle in a fast bowling trio after earning test selection for the first time since March.
The 32-year-old Johnson has had his highs and lows in test cricket, with his express pace often unnerving opposing batsman but his lack of consistency sometimes making him too expensive to keep in the attack.
Australia captain Michael Clarke was confident both Bailey and Johnson would do their jobs for Australia in the only changes to the squad from the fifth test of the last series, which England won 3-0. The English are in Australia trying to win a fourth consecutive Ashes series for the first time in more than a century, adding to the pressure on Clarke and Co.
Clarke said Johnson’s pace was an asset, and the left-arm quick had shown in India and in the ODI series in England that he’s improved his control.
“I said a few days ago, If Mitch was selected in this squad, it wouldn’t surprise me in a couple of months time to see Mitch being man of the series,” Clarke said.
Johnson says he was affected by taunts from English fans over two previous Ashes series and, more recently, on social media.
“I know on Twitter they’ve asked if I’m ready for some new songs, so they’ve already started with the banter,” Johnson said. “When I was over there for the one-day series, I copped a fair bit but just got on with the game.
“They can keep trying as much as they want. They’re just trying to take my focus away from what I’m doing in the middle.”
Fellow Australian paceman Ryan Harris says Johnson would use those taunts as motivation.
“If it does anything, it’ll probably anger him a bit more and he’ll try and bowl a bit faster,” Harris said. “If they want to rip into him, good luck.”
David Warner’s weight of runs in domestic cricket — four centuries in the last month — ensured his spot, despite him being dropped from the ODI squad for the India series due to poor form and his tumultuous tour to England for the last Ashes series. He’ll likely partner Chris Rogers at the top of the order. Shane Watson was selected despite concern over his niggling hamstring injury, with chief selector John Inverarity saying the allrounder was recovering well but it was too early to determine how much he could bowl — if at all.
The 31-year-old Bailey scored 478 runs at an average of 95.6 while also serving as captain of the ODI team in India to cement his spot. Five different players started at No. 6 in the last Ashes series as selectors tried unsuccessfully to replace the retired middle-order stalwart Mike Hussey, but none able to cement the spot. Bailey has been the pick of the candidates since then.
“George Bailey has been in fantastic form with the bat,” Inverarity told a news conference Tuesday. “His confidence is riding high, his performance in international one-day cricket has been quite extraordinary. And he’s very deserving of this opportunity.”
Nathan Lyon was named as the only spin bowler after selectors overlooked Victorian leg-spinner and Pakistan refugee Fawad Ahmed. Allrounder James Faulkner is included as the likely 12th man as cover for Watson.
Inverarity said there was a lot of flexibility in the squad, allowing for late decisions on the formation of the squad.
“We could play five batsmen and five bowlers, or we could play four quicks and no spinners, or three quicks and one spinner,” he said. “Shane is progressing very well, regaining his fitness. We’re confident he’ll be fit to play. We’re not sure, because there’s nine days to go, to the extent to which he’ll be able to bowl.”
Warner was dropped from the Champions Trophy team in July and missed the first two Ashes tests as punishment for a nightclub altercation with England batsman Joe Root. That followed a series of off-field incidents that cost him any certainty over his place as a test opener.
Clarke said Warner had proven on and off the field that he’s ready to take on England again.
“His attitude has been outstanding. When you look at David, for starters, you can see how fit and strong he is at the moment,” he said. “Once we welcomed him back into the group after the incident in the U.K., he’s been great around the team. He’s gone out of his way to try to earn the respect back from his teammates and he’s certainly done that. It’s great to see him back in the team.”
Australia squad: David Warner, Chris Rogers, Shane Watson, Steve Smith, Michael Clarke (captain), George Bailey, Brad Haddin, Mitchell Johnson, Peter Siddle, Ryan Harris, Nathan Lyon, James Faulkner.