Ashes 2019: Australia’s Test squad far from settled, says Justin Langer ahead of pre-Ashes warmup
Usman Khawaja, Travis Head, Cameron Bancroft, Matthew Wade

Australia‘s four-day intra-squad pre-Ashes warmup game starting Tuesday in Southampton, which pits two 12-member teams coached by Graeme Hick and Brad Haddin, could prove definitive in the tourist’s deciding their team for the first Test against England on August 1, feels head coach Justin Langer.

Echoing Australia captain Tim Paine’s words from Sunday, Langer stressed on the spots up for grabs in Australia’s Test squad and how they could be finalised based on success at The Ageas Bowl this week.

“I think there is a couple of bowling positions up for grabs, probably a couple of batting positions,” he said on Monday. “There will be a lot of discussion about whether we have an extra spinner, a lot of discussion about whether we have an extra wicketkeeper. It won’t necessarily be a straight shootout, but there will certainly be good opportunities for guys.”

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Australia have a pool of 25 players in England, which will be whittled down to 16 for the Ashes contest. In Langer’s estimation, there are “three or four” spots of concern for the team management and traveling selectors. Foremost is figuring out how the rehabilitated trio of Steve Smith, David Warner and Cameron Bancroft fit in.

In the time that the three shamed batsmen were suspended, Australia used the likes of Usman Khawaja, Peter Handscomb, Marcus Harris, Travis Head, Marnus Labuschagne, Joe Burns and Kurtis Patterson in various positions in the Test team.

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All signs are Head and Patterson will make way for the Ashes opener, despite having scored centuries in Australia’s previous Test match in February.

Peter Handscomb has been in and out of Australia’s Test team. © AFP

“It was a bit the same when Pete Handscomb missed out on the World Cup squad, he was replaced by Steve Smith,” Langer said. “It was really tough on him, he’d done a great job and who knows, the cards might fall that way. If that’s the case it will be really stiff but that’s the business.

“If someone was to miss out after scoring a Test hundred, it’s not a bad thing to have someone just outside who’s already scored a recent Test hundred. We’ve always prided ourselves on that in Australian cricket, and let’s just hope it keeps happening.”

Khawaja is an injury concern, and is facing a battle to be fit for Edgbaston.

“It was a bit of a race against time for this game,” said Langer. “He was really close … but with his style of hamstring (injury) you just want to make sure it’s right because you don’t want him to be pushing it too soon and have it affect him the rest of the series.We’ll wait and see what happens with this game, and then we’ll have to wait and see what happens with the first Test match. Fingers crossed he’ll be okay.”

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Another dilemma for Australia is whether to play a second wicketkeeper-batsman in the Ashes opener at Edgbaston next month, with Alex Carey and Matthew Wade providing compelling cases for selection.

Langer felt that Wade had done everything asked of him to make a return to Australia’s Test squad.

“He just keeps doing it. He’s got three hundreds on this (Australia A) tour already and I think he’s batted six or seven times,” he said. “He’s doing everything that we’ve asked of Australian cricketers – he’s making runs, he’s making big runs, he’s knocking that hard and he’s got that look in his eye. Coming into a tough series like this, you like to see those sort of fighting instincts so he’s certainly banging very hard for selection.”