Shaun Marsh is in line for a Test recall, while Alex Doolan is on the verge of collecting a baggy green cap after being selected to tour South Africa. But there was no room in the squad for Ashes hero George Bailey.
Selectors have run out of patience with the Tasmanian, who averaged 26 in the Ashes and passed 50 once in eight innings, leaving the batsman out of a 15-man squad for the Test tour.
Bailey has paid a hefty price for a string of underwhelming performances as Australia's selectors parted ways with the XI it picked for the 5-0 whitewash against England. Phil Hughes was also overlooked despite a stunning season in the Sheffield Shield for South Australia.
“This was a difficult decision, but on this occasion we felt Alex and Shaun have games that are well suited to facing South Africa in South Africa,” said chairman of selectors John Inverarity.
“We consider that both are strong players of pace bowling which is important given the strength of South Africa’s attack. Alex was on standby for the recent fifth Test in Sydney and scored a most impressive 165 not out against South Africa for Australia A last season.
“Shaun is a talented batsman who is striking the ball very well at the moment. He has the technique and potential to do well. On this occasion these two batsmen were preferred to Phillip Hughes who we feel is best suited to a top order position. Phillip remains a highly regarded batsman whose time will come.”
His omission is likely to leave Marsh, Doolan and James Faulkner in a three-way race for a berth in the first Test against the Proteas starting February 12 at Centurion. The trio's selection offers several options in terms of reshuffling the batting order.
One option would mean Shane Watson moving from first drop to the No.6 position vacated by Bailey, allowing the former vice-captain to bat in the traditional all-rounder's slot, with Doolan or Marsh to play at No.3.
Should selectors opt for a like-for-like replacement, then Marsh is likely to start favourite ahead of Doolan and Faulkner to bat at No.6.
Another scenario would feature all-rounder Faulkner, who has played several important innings with the bat in the ODI arena, brought into the side, possibly at No.7, with the in-form Brad Haddin pushed up to No.6.
While Bailey has been punished for moderate form, Marsh has been rewarded despite only marginally better performances in the Sheffield Shield.
The left-hander has hit 248 runs at an average of 31 in five Shield appearances for WA this summer and posted just the one century. Marsh has not played a Test since being dumped from the side after what John Inverarity described as a 'traumatic" series against India two years ago where he made only 17 runs from six innings.
Selectors have backed young gun James Pattinson and also handed a recall to Jackson Bird, the pair edging out rising West Australian star Nathan Coulter-Nile.
‘‘James Pattinson is regaining fitness and form. At his best he is a fine Test match bowler,’’ Inverarity said.
‘‘Jackson Bird shaded out Nathan Coulter-Nile for the final bowling position and each of these bowlers is showing encouraging form.’’
Inverarity said the majority of the Test squad will leave next Wednesday, but Faulkner will remain in Australia to play in the Twenty20 series against England and link with the team for the warm-up game in Potchefstroom.
“The selection panel is supporting Darren Lehmann and Michael Clarke in their strong desire to give this Test series the highest priority and have the best possible preparation for the players who have performed so admirably this summer. As such some Test players and others were not considered for the KFC T20 International squad.”
The first Test is at Centurion from February 12.
Australian squad for tour of South Africa: David Warner, Chris Rogers, Shane Watson, Michael Clarke (c), Steve Smith, Shaun Marsh, Alex Doolan, Brad Haddin (vc), Mitchell Johnson, Ryan Harris, Peter Siddle, Nathan Lyon, James Faulkner, Jackson Bird, James Pattinson.