Cameron Bancroft joins Smith and Warner in Australia’s Ashes squad

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Australian cricket’s sandpaper trio are in a Test squad together for the first time since their Cape Town debacle and subsequent suspensions in 2018, and there is every chance of them lining up for the first Ashes Test in Birmingham. Such was the impression from the chairman of selectors Trevor Hohns in Southampton on Friday.

“Getting the banned back together” ran the outstanding headline from national broadsheet The Australian, as the former captain Steve Smith and his former deputy David Warner were selected alongside the more junior Cameron Bancroft. Smith and Warner had already returned to international cricket during the World Cup, and now the Tests see the return of Bancroft, who last year was dragged into a ball-tampering plot that Warner devised and Smith permitted.

“They’re welcomed back with open arms. Steve Smith and Dave Warner, they’re very good cricketers, world-class players. It was natural we would include them now they’re available again,” said Hohns at the squad announcement.

“We were always thinking about [Bancroft] but needed to get our eyes on him because it’s fair to say no one had seen much of him since his return. He played some Sheffield Shield cricket towards the end of last season back home but, more importantly, we wanted to see how he was going in particular over here.”

After 726 runs for Durham this year, Bancroft took his opportunity at the Ageas Bowl when 24 Australian hopefuls faced off. In a match where piles of cheap wickets fell on a green pitch with erratic bounce, Bancroft made by far the highest score with 93 not out and was happy to wear hits to his body. Hohns confirmed that it got him over the line.

“[Partly it was] county cricket, and just playing in the conditions over here. But I don’t know if you saw the way he played in this game out here just now, in very trying conditions. He’s the type of player we think we need in our Australian side. He’s tough, he’s enthusiastic, his work ethic is fantastic. And he’s infectious. We need people like that.”

Fellow opener Marcus Harris will likely be demoted to spare batsman, though Hohns said that both could play alongside Warner in the top three if Usman Khawaja was not fit for the first Test. The opener Joe Burns was omitted despite making 180 in Australia’s most recent Test and 133 for Australia A three weeks ago at Arundel, as was the middle-order bat Kurtis Patterson after 114 not out in the same match.

Smith will surely resume the spot at No 4 where he has made most of his 23 Test centuries, with Travis Head likely to follow at five. The sixth spot will be a contest between the recently prolific wicketkeeper-turned-batsman Matthew Wade, seaming all-rounder Mitchell Marsh, and a man the Australian camp is increasingly keen to promote as a spinning all-rounder, Marnus Labuschagne.

Captain and wicketkeeper Tim Paine can choose from a battery of six fast bowlers, with Patrick Cummins, Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazlewood joined by Peter Siddle, Michael Neser and the imposing James Pattinson. The latter can swing the ball at extreme pace, and bowled several exciting spells in the warm-up match, while Siddle also took quality wickets and has vast experience and success in English conditions.

Both have made a strong case to replace a frontline colleague, with the left-arm express Starc ordinary in the warm-up after tailing off at the end of a brilliant World Cup, while Hazlewood does not look to have hit his straps returning from injury. The World Cup wicketkeeper Alex Carey and reserve bat Peter Handscomb missed out, and with Nathan Lyon as the squad’s solitary spinner, they had better hope he does not tread on a cricket ball.

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