MELBOURNE (Reuters) – Australia’s opening tour matches against New Zealand will be a roll call of auditions for the hosts’ rebuilding test side, with a number of batsmen hoping for big runs.
A Prime Minister’s XI takes on New Zealand in a day-night match at Canberra’s Manuka Oval on Friday, where players will grapple with the pink ball ahead of the maiden day-night test in Adelaide next month.
Many of the same squad will then pad up the next day for a Cricket Australia XI to play a two-day tour match against the visitors at the same ground.
The squads for each game have given the strongest clue as to who selectors hope will step up to replace former captain Michael Clarke, opening batsman Chris Rogers and all-rounder Shane Watson, all of whom retired in the wake of Australia’s Ashes defeat in England.
Uncapped wicketkeeper-batsman Cameron Bancroft and Joe Burns have been named in both sides and their performances could determine their hopes of partnering opener David Warner for the first test in Brisbane starting Nov. 5.
Queensland captain Usman Khawaja and Adam Voges, who had a patchy Ashes series, will also play both matches.
Khawaja, who has played as an opener but would more likely slot in at three or four in the order, will captain the Cricket Australia XI and is under pressure to make the chance count after a number of false starts earlier in his career.
“This is also another good leadership opportunity for Usman Khawaja,” selector Rod Marsh said.
“He performed well when he captained Australia A side on the recent tour of India and this will allow him to build on that experience.”
Selectors’ hopes of bedding down a side before the home series against New Zealand were dashed by security concerns in Bangladesh which prompted the scrapping of a two-test tour for Steven Smith’s team.
Though most of Australia’s test players have competed in the ongoing domestic one-day tournament, they have been starved of international cricket since the tour of England ended in early-September.
Australia’s bowling lineup is more settled, with Peter Siddle and Josh Hazlewood battling for a place in the pace attack with left-armers Mitchell Starc and Mitchell Johnson.
Selectors are clearly keen to have another look at young, left-arm spinner Ashton Agar, however, naming him in both tour matches.
The highly-rated 22-year-old featured in Australia’s one-day international series against England but has not played a test since his surprise selection in the opening two matches of the 2013 Ashes tour.
(Reporting by Ian Ransom; Editing by Greg Stutchbury)