With a hint of weary desperation last Sunday, Darren Lehmann insisted that the entire Australia squad had a chance of playing in the third Test. The tourists’ coach did not add, though he may have done given the dismantling that had just taken place at Lord’s, that it might require the entire squad to have any chance whatever of seizing the Ashes back from England.
He and his fellow selectors would seem to have little option but to make changes to the side which lost by 347 runs, a humiliation from any angle. They had already dropped two players from the team that went down so heroically by a mere 14 runs in the opening Investec Test at Trent Bridge.
It is an especially significant choice because to have any chance of regaining the urn Australia have to win the match – and then two more. “I’ve said it before, all 18 have a chance to play,” Lehmann said. “I’m not ruling any of them out. That’s what happens when you have two losses.”
The size of the travelling band offers an abundance of permutations and from what Lehmann said it seems that any of them are possible when he and Rodney Marsh, the selector on tour, come to pick the team for the game at Old Trafford which starts next Thursday.
It is probably why Matthew Wade, nominally the reserve wicketkeeper on this trip, announced his availability as a specialist batsman today. Like the others who have not featured so far in the Tests, he is playing in the tour match against Sussex at Hove starting tomorrow morning.
“It’s a huge opportunity for everyone who’s not had a game,” Wade said. “The Ashes tour has not started like we wanted, but to get an opportunity to play, which I’ve not had for a couple of months, is great for me.
“I am here as a back-up wicketkeeper but I want to get amongst the runs and push for a spot as a batsman. I’d take a spot where I can get one, wicketkeeper or batsman.
“Any batsman who goes out and dominates and gets 150 or 200 will have a chance to play,” he added. “ But I haven’t spoken to anyone about a spot coming up.”
Wade was unfortunate to be dropped as the side’s first choice wicketkeeper-batsman, which he had been for 18 months, for this tour. The selectors decided they needed Brad Haddin’s experience in the role but Wade remains the only player apart from the captain, Michael Clarke, to have scored a hundred in any of Australia’s seven Tests this year.
His 102 not out against Sri Lanka at Sydney in January won the highest commendations. Before this series began, Shane Warne suggested that Wade should be in Australia’s top six as a batsman only but the selectors have so far chosen to stick to the original template.
Anything is now possible. At least two changes in a batting order that has been woefully weak so far may be thought necessary. The middle order has been found lacking in all four innings, with no player in the top six making more than Phil Hughes’s 81 at Trent Bridge.
David Warner is now favourite to play after his commanding 193 for Australia A in Pretoria earlier this week. Wade is probably competing for a place with Ed Cowan, dropped after the Nottingham defeat, and the all-rounder James Faulkner, who has yet to play a Test.
The truth probably is that Australia have not got a clue what their best team is. That was so when the squad was selected and it is no closer to being answered now. They may hit lucky with their combination in the next Test but the science of selection has given way to a wing, a prayer and making it up on the back of a fag packet.
If anybody can manage to get some runs in the match against Sussex then a game at Manchester probably awaits. Poor Cowan, who was summarily despatched after only one match in the No 3 position – and, it has to be conceded, a couple of moderate strokes in both innings which caused his dismissal – has been asked to captain the side. Six players who appeared at Lord’s have been rested, presumably so they can work on their game.
With James Pattinson out of the tour with a stress fracture of the back, caused partly because he had to bowl in two innings so close together at Lord’s, there is a bowling place to be had. Mitchell Starc’s left-arm swing makes him a potent proposition but Jackson Bird’s stability may be more desirable.
Ashton Agar, the 19-year-old left-arm spinner, has impressed everybody with his batting but he failed to take a wicket on a turning pitch at Lord’s. Nathan Lyon, the off-spinner dropped at the start of the series, is back in with an opportunity. Then again, so is everybody else.
Five players with points to prove
Back-up wicketkeeper with real chance of breaking into a line-up that has continually failed. A stylist with two Test hundreds already.
A recall seems doubtful after being despatched following failures at Trent Bridge. But runs in Hove may give the selectors no choice.
Left-arm quick bowler and typically hard-nosed Australian, his runs against England in the Champions Trophy showed batting credentials.
First-choice spinner until he was overlooked at Trent Bridge for no apparent reason. A better bowler than he is given credit for, but like all other Aussie spinners, struggles in Shane Warne’s shadow.
Has control, which Australia may need, and out-and-out pace. Their bowling has not been consistently penetrating at any time.
Rest of team (for Hove) Hughes, U Khawaja, S Smith, A Agar, A Turner, M Starc.