Mitchell Starc could be a doubt for the Champions Trophy.
Mitchell Starc could be a doubt for the Champions Trophy. Ross Setford

Who will be in Australia's Champions Trophy squad?

AUSTRALIA is set to name its15-man squad for an assault on the Champions Trophy with one key question hanging over the team: will Mitchell Starc be fit?

The left-arm spearhead is the most damaging white-ball bowler in world cricket and could be the difference between Australia taking home an unprecedented third Champions Trophy and an early exit.

Starc, who left Australia's tour of India after two Tests with a stress fracture in his right foot, had targeted this tournament for his return and is expected to be named by Cricket Australia on Thursday for the June tournament being held in the United Kingdom.

His inclusion, and how it shapes the remainder of Australia's fast-bowling cartel, as well as the selection headaches at the top of the order make for the biggest talking points in the squad announcement.

Assuming Australia applies a similar squad breakdown to the one it took to World Cup glory two years ago - with four specialist quicks, one spinner, a versatile batting core with strong all-rounder elements and a wicketkeeper - we've come up with a likely 15-man crew.

There's been some serious turnover since Michael Clarke led Australia to their fifth World Cup title, with Clarke joined in international retirement by fellow veterans Mitchell Johnson, Shane Watson, Brad Haddin and Xavier Doherty, while that team's vice-captain, George Bailey, appears to be on the outer at the selection table these days.

But that doesn't mean there are lots of new faces.

Australia has made a concerted effort to rejuvenate their ODI team, meaning even many of the new names have already begun to make an impact in the 50-over format.

And given that Australia tends to stack its ODI team full of all-rounder options, we've done away with that section and included all-rounders in the groups of their dominant skill - James Faulkner is with the quicks and Marcus Stoinis is a middle order batsman for example.

TOP ORDER

David Warner is a lock. But who lines up next to him to open for Australia remains a mystery.

Australia have tried to move on from the Aaron Finch era a few times now, but the rugged Victorian keeps bouncing back.

Dropped during the summer, with Australia seemingly making a call to move on both Finch and fellow veteran George Bailey, Finch rebounded to feature against New Zealand in a three-match series in February - and top-scored in the final match with a half century.

 

David Warner is a shoo-in for the Champions Trophy.
David Warner is a shoo-in for the Champions Trophy. DAVID MARIUZ

More to the point, he has an excellent record in England - where he averages 52.25, his best record in any country and a solid 15 points higher than his career average.

But he faces stiff competition from Usman Khawaja and Travis Head.

Khawaja makes a compelling case to be the team's opener - where he averages 40.44 over 10 innings - while Head is a versatile option who can also bat lower down the order, and both are expected to feature in the 15-man squad.

Shaun Marsh is the unlucky one to miss out here, while the highly rated Sam Heazlett is probably looking more at the next Champions Trophy than this one.

MIDDLE ORDER

There's lots of talent to be squeezed into this group of players and some big casualties, like the experienced George Bailey, will miss out.

Skipper Steve Smith will anchor the team's batting at No.3, while Head, Glenn Maxwell and Peter Handscomb are all incumbents and it would be a shock to see any miss out.

 

Glenn Maxwell has been in form for the Australian One-Day team.
Glenn Maxwell has been in form for the Australian One-Day team. DAVE HUNT

The shoulder injury suffered by regular seam-bowling all-rounder Mitch Marsh in India has thrown a spanner in the works, but his loss could give batting all-rounder Marcus Stoinis an extended run in the national team.

Stoinis caught the attention of Australian cricket fans with his hard-hitting exploits against New Zealand in January, blasting an extraordinary, unbeaten 146 in the series opener.

Australia has taken Stoinis on a one-day tour of the UK in the past, and will almost certainly do so again.

Moises Henriques and Cameron White were the two most prolific batsman in Australia's domestic one-day competition, leading to a public showdown between Australia's experienced state cricketers and the national selectors who were pushing for a youth policy.

That youth policy means that White and Bailey are long odds to play for Australia again, while 30-year-old Henriques will probably miss out to the 27-year-old Stoinis for the seam-bowling all-rounder sport.

WICKETKEEPER

There'll be no debate over this one: Matthew Wade is Australia's No.1 keeper, and his spot in the one-day team is even more solid than in Test cricket.

The gloveman is also Australia's third-choice skipper, should captain Steve Smith and his deputy David Warner both be unavailable - as was the case on Australia's ODI series in New Zealand in February when Wade was named as skipper, only to miss out on all three games as he battled a back injury.

THE QUICKS

The most hotly contested positions in the Australian squad, with nearly a dozen contenders pushing for likely four spots (with fast-bowling all-rounder James Faulkner making five).

The biggest cloud hangs over the head of Starc, and his availability could determine how the rest of the fast-bowling contingent looks.

Pat Cummins and Josh Hazlewood are certainties to feature and could wreak havoc in seaming English conditions.

 

Pat Cummins should get one of the fast-bowling spots for the Champions Trophy.
Pat Cummins should get one of the fast-bowling spots for the Champions Trophy. Ross Setford

That leaves one last spot - and it is the most contentious of all. Australia debuted beanpole quick Billy Stanlake over summer but he struggled to cement his spot in the team, while Andrew Tye has played T20 internationals but is yet to make his ODI debut.

John Hastings is a wholehearted cricketer and has been proven to be effective in English conditions, while James Pattinson is a genuine firebrand - although a more imposing figure in red-ball cricket than white.

But Nathan Coulter-Nile is our pick to jag the last spot.

He's a favourite of the selectors and a genuine pace bowler who can provide some serious lower-order hitting.

Injuries - heaps of them, unfortunately - have held him back in recent years but he's made an impact in the Indian Premier League in recent weeks to allay those concerns.

Should he break down again before or during the tournament, Hastings shapes as the ideal replacement - especially as he, along with Pattinson, is plying his trade in English County cricket and would be just a short car trip, rather than a 24-hour flight, away.

But if Starc is out, Australia could be tempted to pick another left-arm quick to give their attack a bit of variety. Behrendorff, has a modest domestic one-day record but has done the business in Twenty20 and could easily fit the bill.

THE SPINNERS

Well, the spinner it should be - as Australia will only take one.

This one seems as straightforward as the wicketkeeper selection: Adam Zampa is leaps and bounds ahead of the next-best option.

Zampa has cemented his place as Australia's premier short-form spinner in recent months, and has next to no genuine challengers for the title.

 

Adam Zampa should get the nod for the spinner's spot.
Adam Zampa should get the nod for the spinner's spot. PAUL MILLER

The likes of Nathan Lyon, Jon Holland and Mitch Swepson put more energy into their red ball cricket.

Swepson had a strong Big Bash campaign and could be considered, but Zampa would be particularly hard done by if overlooked.

News Corp Australia

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