SYDNEY, November 15 – Australia named an outsized 17-man squad Monday as they battle injuries and poor form ahead of the crunch Ashes series against England, where they hope to halt a worrying slide down the Test rankings.
Selectors’ chairman Andrew Hilditch said officials would watch this week’s domestic and Australia A fixtures before trimming the party to 13 before the opening Test on November 25.
"It’s a longer squad than normal primarily because we want to look at the next round of (Sheffield) Shield games and the Australia A clash (against England)," Hilditch said.
Star batsman Michael Clarke was retained as Ricky Ponting’s vice-captain despite a flare-up of back problem, while there were surprise call-ups for batsman Usman Khawaja and left-arm finger-spinner Xavier Doherty.
Fast-bowler Doug Bollinger and batsman Simon Katich were given the chance to recover from rib and thumb problems respectively when they play in domestic comeback games this week.
Victoria quick Peter Siddle is returning from stress fractures in his back which sidelined him in January, while paceman Ryan Harris was included after making an impressive return from knee surgery.
Under-fire Michael Hussey and Marcus North hung onto their places despite indifferent recent performances with the bat.
Once-mighty Australia are coming off an abysmal year with a 2-0 Test defeat in India among seven straight losses which pushed them down to fifth in the Test rankings, one below arch-rivals England.
"The (selection panel) has been pleased with the performance of the Test side in India however we were obviously disappointed in the result," Hilditch said.
"With two losses in games where we felt the result could easily have been different and we realise there are some important areas we need to improve on before this summer’s matches."
The squad was unveiled at a gala launch in front of Sydney’s famed Opera House and Harbour Bridge, after ticket sales were reportedly hit by the strong Australian dollar and ongoing financial turmoil in Britain and Europe.
However an unseasonal downpour kept many fans away with only about 100 people turning up.
Australia are fighting to reclaim the Ashes trophy after their defeat in England last year. England, who have been in solid form in their opening tour games, have not won an Ashes in Australia since the 1986-1987 season.
Australia – Ricky Ponting (capt), Michael Clarke (vice-capt), Doug Bollinger, Xavier Doherty, Callum Ferguson, Brad Haddin, Ryan Harris, Nathan Hauritz, Michael Hussey, Ben Hilfenhaus, Mitchell Johnson, Simon Katich, Usman Khawaja, Marcus North, Peter Siddle, Steven Smith, Shane Watson