Cricket

ICC Cricket World Cup 2019: Peter Handscomb's exclusion sticks out in Australia's pace-dominated squad

  • Gaurav Joshi
  • April 16th, 2019
  • 16:26:54 IST

Imagine this scenario: On the morning of a World Cup match, Alex Carey suffers an inadvertent injury that rules him out of the game. Who will keep wickets for Australia? The exclusion of Peter Handscomb from the 15-man squad means not only have the selectors turned their back on a back-up keeper, but also excluded the batsman that has helped Australia overcome its spin woes in the middle overs of the ODI.

Handscomb's omission is the major debating point from the Australia World Cup squad that was announced by the Trevor Hohns-led selection panel on Monday. Ever since Justin Langer took over as the coach 12 months ago, he was hell-bent on finding at batsmen equipped to handle spin during the middle overs.

Peter Handscomb was not picked by the Australia selectors despite a series of good performances, his spot going to Steve Smith instead. AFP

Peter Handscomb was not picked by the Australia selectors despite a series of good performances, his spot going to Steve Smith instead. AFP

Handscomb was touted as the saviour, and his performance against India at home and away proved that Langer had got it spot on. In the 13 matches since being reinstated in the ODI's, Handscomb has scored 479 runs at 43.55. He was one of catalyst to Australia's ODI wins in India and in those 13 matches he had a strike-rate of 93.5 against spin.

So how can Australia leave Handscomb out? The simple answer is you cannot fit them all in, but the reality is that the return of Steve Smith that has led to Handscomb being pushed out. It is a brave call, especially given that Smith has struggled in the IPL and still looks to be hampered by the elbow injury. Smith and Handscomb are similar players and only one could fit into the mix.

"Pete (Handscomb) was desperately unlucky. I can't deny that. Just so happened that Steven Smith and David Warner were coming back, someone had to miss out and we think Steven can play the same role that Peter did in the batting line up" Hohns told reporters.

From a selector's point of view, they have stuck with reputation rather than form. It is a courageous call because Australia only have one specialist back-up batsman in the squad.

Which begs the question: Did Australia really need five front-line fast bowlers, that too two left-armers in Mitchell Starc and Jason Behrendorff? Starc is an automatic selection as was Pat Cummins. The rise of Jyhe Richarson in the past six months along with his record means he too was a certainty.

The inclusion of Behrendorff seems to indicate that the selectors are aware of the workload on Starc, especially with the Ashes to follow after the World Cup. Add to that Starc is also making a coming back after an injury and Australia play nine matches in just over a month. In terms of long-term planning, it is a wise call to include Berendorff, but it is difficult to see Australia playing both the left-arm pacers in the playing XI.

The other big talking point was the absence of Josh Hazlewood. However, the tall paceman has only featured in 11 out of the last 34 ODIs for Australia. Additionally, he is still yet to fully recover from a back injury and with the Ashes, in mind, it was a wise call to ease him back into the game.

Hohns explained the exclusion of Hazlewood by stating "Of course his complete lack of hard match play over a period of time now obviously weighed against him plus there is a bit of an unknown there as well, he's yet to prove he is fully fit. "

Perhaps the precarious inclusion in the pace department is that of Nathan Coulter-Nile. The burly Western Australian returned home from the IPL last week due to injury and like Hazlewood, has constantly been on the sidelines in the past 12 months. But perhaps it is Coulter-Nile's hitting prowess in the lower order that has sealed his seat on the plane to England.

Australia has only picked one substitute batsmen, that being Shaun Marsh. It means that there is cover for the top four, but there is no replacement for the No 5, 6 or 7, which gives Glenn Maxwell and Marcus Stoinis a free reign at 5 and 6 respectively. If either one of them loses form, there is no tailor made replacement for either. One cannot cover all bases, but perhaps an Ashton Turner could have been picked as a back-up for the middle/lower order instead of the extra fast bowler.

Apart from Handscomb, it is fair to say that Australia have the best players at their disposal to win the World Cup for an unprecedented sixth time. Of course, a lot will once again depend on Smith and David Warner. The Australian selectors have backed their stalwarts to regain their golden touch after a year in exile from international cricket. How well the pair square up against international bowlers will have huge barring on the Australian campaign.

If either of them fails to match the lofty expectations, then the selectors will regret not picking the additional back-up batsman at the expense of five front-line seamers.

Updated Date: April 16, 2019 16:26:54 IST

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