Throw in the return from exile of Steve Smith and David Warner, and pretty much half of Australia’s first-class cohort have their hands up. It’s too many to be true, but it’s true that there are many. Of course, the style of cricket in England will be different, and form in one format has only limited application to another. But it’s form nonetheless.
Realistically, the selectors must have thought that the autumn sojourns in India and the UAE would filter out some chaff. They must have expected some players to rule themselves out. Rather, more and more kept ruling themselves in. Usman Khawaja, Shaun Marsh, Marcus Stoinis, even Nathan Lyon: all might have made the selectors’ job easier, but instead complicated it. Ashton Turner would have been at the furthest fringes, yet played a memorable role as Australia ran down 360 at Mohali. By then, Australia were a rolling stone.
So the pool kept growing. Between World Cups, Australia tend to take an ad hoc approach to one-day selection anyway, since it prioritises Test cricket and is compromised by Twenty20 (note that after the 50-over carnivale in England, there will not be a single international in that format in Australia next summer). So it was that when the selectors sat down to pick the World Cup squad, they had no long-term formlines to work with and only a vaguely defined organising principle, but a glut of ready, willing and able players.
At least no one can say they’ve got it wrong. But could they have got it more right? I think so. The two shock omissions obviously are Peter Handscomb and Josh Hazlewood. For Hazlewood, there is an explanation of sorts. They’ve picked five other fast bowlers, though on likely dry pitches only two at a time may be needed. They’re hedging against injury. The last thing they needed was another brittle quick, and the Ashes trip right on the heels of the World Cup. Still after all these years, winning the World Cup would be nice, but defending the Ashes is non-negotiable.
Handscomb is different. His Test career is spluttering, but he has been at the heart of Australia’s recent burst of irresistible one-day form. In the Mohali chase, he made a century, his first. He’s made consistent runs at a speedy rate. He looked to be an integral part of the good thing Australia was on. And he can keep.
As it stands, Australia have picked five batsmen – three of them openers, arguably four – and two all-rounders. Chairman Trevor Hohns says Handscomb is unlucky, but it’s not an accident. He and the selectors have under-clubbed. It’s deliberate, and risky. It’s heaping up responsibility, especially on Smith and Warner, who will be carrying extra baggage anyway. And if anything should befall Alex Carey, it means the gloves pass to already well-loaded captain Aaron Finch. It’s not unbalanced exactly, just eccentric.
But the selectors are not wrong yet. It is seven weeks to the first game. There’s much water to flow under the bridge yet, two oceans of it. In England, if there is a mishap or misstep, Justin Langer will be able to pluck a body out of the crowd, literally. If Australia cannot find strength in numbers in the World Cup, at least they will provide comfort.