After an Indian tour that Cricket Australia would love to forget, it's time for the nation's cricket selectors (and fans) to narrow down which players should be on the plane to England ahead of back-to-back Ashes series. We at SportsFan have put our heads together and come up with a 17-man squad that should be capable of getting the job done – with a little bit of luck.
Read on for our squad, and let us know who you'd select in the comments.
David Warner – He had a horrid time in India but Warner is the most talented batsman in the team behind Michael Clarke. His shot selection still suggests he's more comfortable in the shorter forms of the game, but he does have the ability to swing the momentum of a match in a single session.
Ed Cowan – Cowan's knack for grinding out gritty scores in the 30s has earned him admirers and detractors in equal measure, but in an otherwise unreliable top order he's become a crucial member of the side. Has some experience in County cricket and will be more at home in English conditions than he was on India's dustbowl pitches.
Chris Rogers – The biggest surprise in our squad, Rogers is an opening batsman who will turn 36 this year and as such will probably be ignored by the selectors for both the upcoming Ashes series. He might also be just the player the Australians need.
A hardened pro with almost 19,000 first-class runs to his name, a career batting average of close to 50 (he averaged 49 for Victoria this season) and years of experience in England with several County teams, Rogers would be first cab of the rank in our side if a change was needed at the top of the order. He's not one for the future, but if winning back the Ashes is Australia's top priority then Rogers should be in the mix.
Phil Hughes – Hughes gained some confidence late in the India series after struggling badly against the spinners, and although he has his fair share of critics he's also a class above most of his batting rivals in the Sheffield Shield. He has 21 first-class tons to his name, has improved his once fatally-flawed technique and should be Australia's long-term No.3.
Michael Clarke – The captain and Australia's only world class Test batsman. He's currently having a layoff due to an ongoing back injury, but will hopefully continue his form in England and keep the team homework assignments to a minimum.
Usman Khawaja – One of five players in our squad to miss out on a Cricket Australia contract this year, Khawaja is an obvious talent but has been snubbed repeatedly by the selectors. He's been on standby for the Test team for months, meaning he hasn't played a first-class match since November.
Khawaja's fielding and running between the wickets have been cited as areas for improvement in the past, but we take the old-fashioned approach of judging a batsmen by how many runs he scores. After failed experiments with makeshift all-rounders in India, it's time for Khawaja to get a run in Australia's top six.
Steve Smith – A surprise success story in India, Smith is a much-improved batsman after being miscast a frontline spinner early in his career. Still only 23, Smith is our middle-order back-up and a spin specialist who could counter any pitches prepared to suit England tweakers Graeme Swann and Monty Panesar.
Shane Watson – Watson's inclusion in our squad would be on the proviso he makes himself available to bowl again. Back at the start of December we rated him Australia's second-most valuable player, but as a batsman alone he simply doesn't cut it in the Test arena. Like Western Australia's Shaun Marsh (who narrowly missed our squad), Watson's at his best with the bat on limited-overs pitches made for runscoring (he has seven ODI centuries to his name but only two Test tons in 75 innings).
Yet his canny medium-pace bowling could be a weapon in England, so he'll hold his spot if he is able to roll the arm over again. If not, Australia should go back to basics and play their six best batsmen, four best bowlers and a wicket-keeper.
Matthew Wade – Let's face it, he's not the best gloveman in Australia. He's probably not even the best Hobart-born wicketkeeper currently playing the game (that honour would go to Tasmania gloveman Tim Paine). But Wade is an entrenched part of the team and a gutsy lower-order batsman, and dropping the wicketkeeper now is probably not what the Australian team needs.
Brad Haddin – A veteran who's still scoring a ton of runs for his state and has done it all at international level, Haddin ticks all the boxes as the team's back-up 'keeper.
Peter Siddle – The stalwart with the ball, Siddle provides the experience and heart of the bowling attack. A one-time hat-trick hero against England, he's a walk-up starter for the first Test.
James Pattinson – Australia's best bowler. He'll need to fire if the tourists are to have any chance in England.
Nathan Lyon – Was dropped after the first Test in India, and by the end of the series had cemented his place as Australia's No.1 spinner. The selectors surely won't make the same mistake again.
Mitchell Starc – The only left-arm Mitchell we've included in our squad. Like namesake Mitchell Johnson, Starc can produce the occasional unplayable delivery. Unlike Johnson, Starc can be relied on to keep the ball on the pitch at all times. He'll probably get the edge as Australia's third paceman, but either of the next two quicks on our list could also do the job.
Jackson Bird – A shock exclusion from Cricket Australia's list of 20 contract players, Bird's Sheffield Shield stats are terrific and he was superb with the ball in the two Tests he played against Sri Lanka in the summer. Bird played no part in the India tour due to injury but his accurate, metronomic style should suit English conditions.
Ryan Harris – Harris showed again in the Sheffield Shield final that he's one of the country's best quicks, and he would probably be Australia's premier paceman if injuries hadn't played havoc with his career. He pips fellow veteran Ben Hilfenhaus and raw young gun Pat Cummins to get a place in our squad.
Steve O'Keefe – After taking 24 scalps at an average of 22, O'Keefe finished the summer as the only spinner in the Sheffield Shield's top 20 wicket-takers. The 28-year-old left-armer is a class above Xavier Doherty and Glenn Maxwell with the ball and gets the nod over Western Australia teenager Ashton Agar as the squad's back-up spinner.
Our Ashes lineup
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