Australia in panic mode as they take a punt on untested Beer

Hosts' desperation shows as novice spinner joins recalled Johnson in squad for Perth
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The Independent Online

It might be too soon to suggest that Australia are in freefall.

Then again, their selectors yesterday gave a perfectly respectable impression of men plunging rapidly through the air, desperately trying to grab a lifeline.

In picking their squad to save the Ashes in the third Test in Perth next week, they made four changes. They include the astonishing introduction of Michael Beer, a left-arm spinner who was playing club cricket last season, the recall of Philip Hughes as opening batsman despite failing to pass fifty in seven innings this season in the Sheffield Shield and the swift re-emergence of Mitchell Johnson, the fast bowler who was dropped for poor form for the last Test match and has not played a single game since to rediscover it.

Indeed, the selection of Steve Smith, a richly promising middle-order batsman and leg-spin bowler as the side's new No 6 was the only new name that was based firmly on logic. Smith, 21, has played two Test matches, both in England earlier this year, when he was included as the side's specialist slow bowler. Ben Hilfenhaus, their most reliable seam bowler, has also been recalled.

God only knows which XI from the 12 will play – and certainly the selectors will not. But a reasonable guess is that they will omit one of their fast bowlers, possibly Peter Siddle, leaving the rest to swim in weak Beer.

The players omitted are Doug Bollinger, who looked unfit in Adelaide, Marcus North who had one failure too many, Xavier Doherty, who seems far from ready for Test cricket and Simon Katich, who will miss the rest of the series with an Achilles injury.

The announcement by Andrew Hilditch, the chairman of selectors, was less a rational response to the heavy defeat in the second Test than an act of panic. The panel had to be seen to be doing something and did it. "The squad is a very exciting one with a blend of talented young players and experienced international cricketers," said Hilditch. "We are confident it will play an aggressive brand of cricket as we try to change the momentum of the series in this critical Test."

Beer becomes the 10th slow bowler and the most unusual to be selected since the retirement of Shane Warne nearly four years ago. Indeed, as both men come from Victoria and Beer played for Warne's old club, St Kilda there may be an element of praying and hoping that lightning may strike twice. Not only that but Warne himself suggested that Beer should be the man to take the spinner's role. There had been an outrageously fanciful suggestion that Warne come out of retirement so perhaps looking for the next spinner in St Kilda is next best thing.

Beer, who has played just five first-class matches for Western Australia after he moved to Perth in search of a contract as he was unable to get a game for Victoria, replaces Doherty who has not looked up to the job of Test cricket.

England came up against Beer earlier in the tour when he was playing only his third match for WA. Although he had his moments, he received something of a mauling in England's second innings when he went for 99 in 16.4 overs. But he took five wickets in the match and has been steadily progressing. With best Shield figures of 3 for 39, however, he is a work in progress at best and the paucity of Australia's spin stocks has again been demonstrated.

"I'm very much stoked and surprised," Beer said. "Twelve months ago I probably wasn't a professional cricketer, that's in all facets. Then Western Australia gave me the opportunity. I don't think it really sank in until I rang my parents and blurted it out myself and thought, 'hang on, what's going on here?'"

The fact that they have turned to Hughes in place of the injured Katich is also a tribute to hope. Hughes had an exceptional beginning to his Test career, making two hundreds in his second match before his frailties against the bouncing ball were revealed. When told that Hughes was likely to be recalled earlier this week, the England captain, Andrew Strauss, said he thought the batsman had a weakness that could be exposed. Hughes marked his call up yesterday by immediately getting a duck for New South Wales.

Johnson is deemed to be Australia's most potent bowler even though he was clearly struggling for length, direction and confidence in Brisbane. Either the selectors are admitting they got it wrong or, more likely, they are praying that by some miracle Johnson will relocate his radar.

At least Smith for North has an obvious logic. Smith looked the part when he was making an ebullient 77 last year at Headingley batting at eight. The selectors are now expecting him to be around for years but he is coming into a side that has been hurriedly thrown together.

In A Spin: Australia's many attempts to replace Warne

If selected to face England next week, Michael Beer will be the 10th spinner Australia have used since the Test retirement of Shane Warne in 2007. The others are: (stats are Tests post-Warne)

Nathan Hauritz: Tests: 16 Wickets: 58 Average: 36.22

Brad Hogg: Tests: 3 Wickets: 8 Average: 60.12

Cameron White: Tests: 4 Wickets: 5 Average: 68.40

Stuart MacGill: Tests: 4 Wickets: 10 Average: 65.1

Beau Casson: Tests: 1 Wickets: 3 Average: 43.0

Jason Krejza: Tests: 20 Wickets: 13 Average: 43.23

Bryce McGain: Tests 1 Wickets: 0

Steven Smith: Tests: 2 Wickets: 3 Average: 27.33

Xavier Doherty: Tests: 2 Wickets: 3 Average: 102.00

The three latest Australians to join The Ashes party

Michael Beer

Achieves the startling feat of being called up by Australia after just five first-class games. Moved to Western Australia when he failed to make it with Victoria. The 26-year-old left-arm spinner has just 16 first-class wickets to his name. Started out with St Kilda – the old stomping ground of Shane Warne.

Steve Smith

Young all-rounder about whom Australia have high hopes. Made his Test debut earlier this year against Pakistan in England and has a first-class batting average of 47. Was the second-highest wicket-taker at this year's T20 World Cup with his leg-spin.

Phil Hughes

Another opportunity for the opener, who started with a bang by scoring two hundreds in the Durban Test last year but was dropped during the 2009 Ashes after England targeted his upper body. Scored 86 when recalled against New Zealand in March.

Australia Squad

For third Ashes Test in Perth (Thursday)

S R Watson: Age: 29 Tests: 24

P J Hughes: Age: 22 Tests: 7

R T Ponting (capt): Age: 35 Tests: 150

MJ Clarke: Age: 29 Tests: 66

ME K Hussey: Age: 35 Tests: 56

S P D Smith: Age 21: Tests: 2

B J Haddin (wkt): Age: 33 Tests: 29

MG Johnson: Age: 29 Tests: 39

R J Harris: Age: 31 Tests: 3

MA Beer: Age: 26 Tests: 5

P M Siddle: Age: 26 Tests: 19

B W Hilfenhaus: Age: 27 Tests: 14