Langer prepares to swing axe in ‘brutal’ final cut
UP TO four places in the Ashes squad will be on the line when two arbitrarily chosen Australian sides play each other in Southampton on Tuesday night.
By game's end at least eight players will be told "thanks but no thanks" and head for home or return to county duties.
That was the reality laid out by coach Justin Langer ahead of the four-day match at the Rose Bowl.
Over the past few days, 25 of the country's best players have gathered at Hampshire's home facility.
Usman Khawaja will not play in the 12-a-side match but is recovering well and should be fit for the first Test, which starts at Edgbaston on August 1.
Langer indicated selectors had at least 12 of the squad locked in but were undecided on the final "three or four" places.
"I think there is a couple of bowling positions up for grabs, probably a couple of batting positions," he said.
"There will be a lot of discussion about whether we have an extra spinner, a lot of discussion about whether we have an extra wicketkeeper.
"It won't necessarily be a straight shootout but there will certainly be good opportunities for guys."
There is a surfeit of extra keepers. Backstops if you like. Matthew Wade, Alex Carey, Peter Handscomb and Cameron Bancroft have all spent time with hands in the gloves.
The Australia v Australia match is an extraordinary preparation and leaves the selectors in the awkward position of having to inform a large number of players they have missed out.
"It's going to be brutal actually," Langer said.
"We're going to have to find the best way, and we're still searching for the best way (to tell players). It's really important we talk to guys face-to-face and we talk to guys individually.
"It's about respect and it's about good communication.
"We can't just talk about communication and not actually put it into practice.
"There are going to be some disappointed guys, there are going to be some really jubilant guys, some being on their first tour and others their first Ashes Test series.
"We're just working out the best way to do that but we'll speak to everyone face-to-face."
Langer indicated that there had been a lot of discussion around the need for an all-rounder.
Australia would generally go for the seam bowling-batting type that Mitchell Marsh provides but Marnus Labuschagne's fast improving part-time spin has him in the selectors' sights for the role.
"It will be one of the discussion points," Langer said.
"Whether it's Mitch (Marsh) or Marnus, for example with his leg-spin. I think he's bowled 180 overs in county cricket this year. You can bowl in the nets as much as you want but for him to bowl 180 overs that's great for his development and he's playing so well, he's got five hundreds.
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"Whoever the all-rounders are will get picked not just because they're an all-rounder, but because we feel they're going to play an important role in the series or at least be important back-up in the series."
Travis Head, Kurtis Patterson and Joe Burns all made a century in their last Tests, but Langer couldn't say it would guarantee them a start come the Ashes now that Steve Smith and David Warner were back.
"It was a bit the same when Peter Handscomb missed out on the World Cup squad, he was replaced by Steve Smith," Langer said.
"It was really tough on him, he'd done a great job and who knows, the cards might fall that way.
"I think Patto, Burnsy and Travis all got hundreds in the last Test match. Six months on from that there's been big changes to the team with Steve and Dave coming back in.
"If that's the case it will be really stiff, but that's the business."
"We've always prided ourselves on that in Australian cricket, and let's just hope it keeps happening.
"If someone was to miss out after scoring a Test hundred it's not a bad thing to have someone just outside who's already scored a Test hundred.
"It will be a tough call but we'll just see how that falls in the next few days."
Matthew Wade sounds a good chance to make the squad and the team.
"He's got three hundreds on this tour already and I think he's batted six or seven times," Langer said.
"He's doing everything that we've asked of Australian cricketers.
"He's making runs, he's making big runs, he's knocking that hard and he's got that look in his eye.
"Coming into a tough series like this, you like to see those sort of fighting instincts.
"So he's certainly banging very hard for selection."