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Emerging star Will Pucovski is a step closer to a baggy green cap after he was selected in an extended 17-man Australian Test squad to face India next month.
The national selectors on Thursday confirmed Pucovski's elevation after the emerging star batsman crunched a competition-high 495 runs at 247.5 in three innings, including back-to-back double centuries, in Victoria's opening two Sheffield Shield matches.
He has put immense pressure on incumbent Test opener Joe Burns to retain his spot alongside David Warner, for the Queenslander has only 57 runs from five innings in the Shield.
Just who wins that battle could be determined in a bat-off in an Australia A game next month against India, for both Pucovski and Burns have been named in a separate 19-man A squad which includes nine players from the Test squad.
Pucovski, 22, has flourished since moving to the top of the order. He has worked diligently on his mental wellbeing to handle the expectation that comes with Test selection, having struggled in the past. He was selected in the Test squad against Sri Lanka two years ago but did not play a match.
Western Australian allrounder Cameron Green, 21, was also named and is in contention to make his Test debut. Green has impressed as a batsman with 363 runs at 72.6 in six Shield innings but is likely to start the series as a reserve behind Matthew Wade and Travis Head, who have each been in good form. Green has only recently returned to the bowling crease after a back injury last November ruined his 2019-20 season.
Selection chairman Trevor Hohns said Pucovski and Green had a made statement.
“Their undeniable form demanded selection and we are very pleased to have these young men in the squad for what will be a tremendous Test series against an extremely formidable opponent," he said.
“Cameron has already won selection in the white-ball squad and continues that in joining the Test squad. He is a wonderful young talent who has great potential to become an all-rounder of substance over time. His batting alone has demanded his place in the squad.
“Will’s record breaking start to the summer has been exceptional. His ability to show such patience is something which stands him in good stead for Test cricket and he is in rare company with two double centuries to start the summer. We very much look forward to Will developing further on the international stage."
NSW allrounder Sean Abbott, with 261 runs at 130.5, including a century, and 14 wickets at 17.9 in the summer to date, has also been included in an expanded squad needed because of COVID-19 bio-security issues with the two nations to remain in a hub.
Queensland leg-spinner Mitchell Swepson, with a Shield-high 23 wickets at 21.17, will be Nathan Lyon's side-kick but his only hope of a call-up appears likely to be in the third Test in Sydney. In a stunning start to the season, Swepson has enjoyed the deteriorating Adelaide wickets where the Shield has been held. He had three-straight five-wicket hauls – becoming the first leggie to do so in the Shield since Bill O'Reilly in 1939-40 – and on Wednesday claimed the final three wickets to defeat South Australia. He can give the ball a good rip and has benefited from a strong off-season and his control has been the hallmark of his season.
Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood, Pat Cummins, James Pattinson, Michael Neser, Abbott and Green ensure skipper Tim Paine and the selectors have plenty of fast-bowling options. Cummins is the sole vice-captain, with Head axed from that role.
“As was the case with the white ball side we have reverted to a traditional leadership model of captain and vice-captain now we have a settled and in-form group of experienced players,” Hohns said.
“Travis remains an important member of the senior leadership group and has been integral in the recent success of the side which is now ranked as the best Test team in the world. He has been a great support to Tim and is a very experienced leader.”
The formidable tourists, seeking to defend the Border-Gavaskar Trophy they won here two years ago, and those Australian players who had also been playing in the Indian Premier League were due to arrive in Sydney on Thursday afternoon. They will quarantine for a fortnight, before the white-ball series held in Sydney and Canberra begins on November 27.
The first of four Tests begins with a day-night clash in Adelaide on December 17, which will be the only Test Virat Kohli is seen in because he has then been granted leave to be at the birth of his first child. The series then shifts to Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane.
Selection in the A squad was notable for the inclusion of Victorian allrounder Will Sutherland and that Alex Carey is seen as Paine's wicket-keeping understudy.
Squad: David Warner, Joe Burns, Marnus Labuschagne, Steve Smith, Matthew Wade, Travis Head, Will Pucovski, Cameron Green, Tim Paine (c), Pat Cummins, Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood, James Pattinson, Michael Neser, Sean Abbott, Nathan Lyon, Mitchell Swepson.
Australia A squad: Sean Abbott, Ashton Agar, Joe Burns, Jackson Bird, Alex Carey, Harry Conway, Cameron Green, Marcus Harris, Travis Head, Moises Henriques, Nic Maddinson, Mitchell Marsh (subject to fitness), Michael Neser, Tim Paine, James Pattinson, Will Pucovski, Mark Steketee, Will Sutherland, Mitchell Swepson.
Australia A versus India A and India:
December 6-8: Australia A v India A, Drummoyne Oval
December 11-13: Australia A v India, Sydney Cricket Ground (d/n)
December 17-21: Adelaide Oval (d/n)
December 26-30: Melbourne Cricket Ground
January 7-11: Sydney Cricket Ground
January 15-19: Brisbane Cricket Ground
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