Pakistan-born Usman Khawaja has been included in an 18-man squad for Australia’s first test tour to Pakistan since 1998, and its first in four years without Justin Langer as head coach.
The squad was confirmed three days after Langer announced he’d rejected a six-month contract extension offered by Cricket Australia and quit, a decision that left Andrew McDonald as interim coach.
Test captain Pat Cummins has been criticized by some high-profile former players including Ricky Ponting for not giving his full backing to Langer in the days leading up to the contract discussions. Cummins will lead the squad later this month to Pakistan for a three-test series starting March 4 at Rawalpindi.
The Australian starting lineup that finished off the 4-0 Ashes series victory over England last month with a win in Hobart has been retained. Opener Marcus Harris, who made way for Khawaja’s return for Australia late in the Ashes series, has been included in the squad. Josh Hazlewood, who missed four of the five Ashes tests because of injury, also has returned to a pace bowling group that includes Cummins, Mitchell Starc, Scott Boland, Michael Neser and allrounder Cameron Green.
Ashton Agar and Mitchell Swepson have been added as spin options to support Nathan Lyon.
“This squad covers for all scenarios, including the conditions, given it has been such a long time since Australia was last in Pakistan,” selector George Bailey said. “With several subcontinent tours and a one-day World Cup in India on the near horizon this is a great first up challenge for the group after the successful home Ashes Series.
“It’s also a very historic tour given the length of time since an Australian side last toured Pakistan.”
Langer took over as the national men’s head coach after the so-called Sandpapergate scandal in March 2018 during the third test against South Africa at Cape Town, one of the lowest points in Australia’s sporting history. Australia batter Cameron Bancroft was caught by television cameras trying to rough up one side of the ball with sandpaper and was subsequently suspended by Cricket Australia for nine months. Steve Smith and David Warner, who were captain and vice-captain at the time, were banned for 12 months. Both have since returned as senior batters for Australia.
The absence of Langer will be felt in terms of experience in the conditions. Langer, a left-handed opener, played one test in Lahore in 1994 and three tests in ’98, posting a century and two half centuries on Pakistan soil.
Australian Cricketers’ Association chief executive Todd Greenberg told Melbourne radio station SEN on Monday that he wouldn’t be surprised if there were changes to the squad.
“Clearly there’s some anxiety about touring, and that’s perfectly natural given an Australian cricket team hasn’t toured Pakistan for almost 25 years,” Greenberg said. “We may have one or two players that won’t be comfortable despite all of the advice and guidance that we provide, and that’s OK.”
Australia squad: Pat Cummins (captain), Ashton Agar, Scott Boland, Alex Carey, Cameron Green, Marcus Harris, Josh Hazlewood, Travis Head, Josh Inglis, Usman Khawaja, Marnus Labuschagne, Nathan Lyon, Mitchell Marsh, Michael Neser, Steve Smith, Mitchell Starc, Mitchell Swepson, David Warner.