|Player:||PJ Hughes, BE McGain|
DateLine: 5th February 2009
Youngster Phillip Hughes will replace retired opener Matthew Hayden as one of the most inexperienced squads was named to defend Australia's top position on their crucial three-Test tour of South Africa. Australia, who lost 1-2 at home against South Africa, are in a must-win situation to retain its number number 1 Test ranking. South Africa have already toppled the World Champions from top of the ICC ODI ranking table.
The 20-year-old Hughes, who has scored 891 runs at an average of 74 this season, pipped veteran Phil Jacques, who is returning from an injury, for the slot at top of the batting order in the 14-member squad. "Phillip has been given the fairly daunting task of filling in the shoes of one of Australia's greatest batsmen Matthew Hayden. Phillip is a young man who has had an outstanding debut in first-class cricket for New South Wales," National Selection Panel Chairman Andrew Hilditch said.
"Phil Jaques has not been selected in the squad. Phil has bravely come back from back surgery in an attempt to make himself available for the tour, but in the NSP's view, he has simply not played enough cricket since surgery to force his way into the team," he said.
36-year-old Victorian Bryce McGain was also included in the squad after he returned home from India without playing a single match owing to an injury.
An 18 Test old Mitchell Johnson, who has 78 wickets under his belt, will spearhead the pace attack in absence of Brett Lee and Stuart Clark, who are nursing injuries. Peter Siddle, Doug Bollinger and Ben Hilfenhaus will be the other pacers in the squad.
"It is very exciting that we are taking four fast bowlers to South Africa, all of whom are aged 27 or under and with the potential to have long international careers," Hilditch said. "The development of Johnson and Siddle has been dramatic and Doug Bollinger debuted well in Sydney and we are confident Ben Hilfenhaus is someone who will succeed at international level. We have gone through immense change in the last couple of years with many of the true legends of Australian cricket leaving the game. We are also enduring an unprecedented run of injuries to many of our contracted players. That being said, with all this has come great opportunity as the side rebuilds," he added.
"Marcus North gets his long-awaited chance to join an Australian squad. Whilst Marcus is still a young man, he has had over eight years of first-class experience. He has been added to the squad both because of his strong Shield batting form this year and his ability to bowl off-spin which adds greatly to the flexibility of the squad."
Hilditch said he was confident that the squad, a mix of young and experienced, would come through the challenge in South Africa.
"There is probably no greater challenge in world cricket at present than playing South Africa away. South Africa has an extremely strong side and will be extremely tough, particularly in home conditions.
"The tour represents an exciting challenge for the squad which contains a very good blend of experienced, proven international batsmen and some of our outstanding young talent.
"We have the utmost faith in the young group of Australian cricketers coming through," he added.
The squad: Ricky Ponting (captain), Michael Clarke (vice-captain), Doug Bollinger, Brad Haddin, Nathan Hauritz, Ben Hilfenhaus, Phillip Hughes, Michael Hussey, Mitchell Johnson, Simon Katich, Andrew McDonald, Bryce McGain, Marcus North, Peter Siddle.