Ending weeks of speculation over whether Nathan Hauritz would in fact retain his place in the Australian Test squad ahead of the Ashes, selectors have actually dropped the New South Whales off-spinner from the side. His counterpart from Tasmania, Xavier Doherty, appears to have pipped him to the post, as he becomes a surprise inclusion in the squad for the first Ashes Test to begin on Nov 25th.
Doherty, who is a left-arm orthodox, has had a positive start to the summer, including a strong performance in the recently-concluded Sheffield Shield match against New South Whales. Selectors will be hoping that he can trouble the right-handed English batsmen.
Also finding a place in the side is the leg-spinning all-rounder Steven Smith. But it's more likely that his services will be saved for the second Test at Adelaide. Selectors also chose Michael Hussey after his century against Western Australia in a first class match on Friday while Marcus North, the other batsman fighting for his place in the side, was also included.
Four players were trimmed out of the 17-man group chosen in Sydney on Monday. Among those dropped were Callum Ferguson and Usman Khawaja who didn't succeed in impressing selectors from their Australia A outings against England in Hobart this week, while Ryan Harris' niggling knee injury makes him too hazardous for such an important encounter as the first Test.
However, the most shocking exclusion has been that of Hauritz. He was the frontline spinner since the 2009 Ashes. But he struggled against the two Tests against India last month. He had to battle against Xavier Doherty in a much-hyped "spin-off" in his side's Sheffield Shield match against Tasmania. But Doherty came out tops in that encounter by collecting two victims, including bowling Simon Katich.
"Nathan Hauritz is one of these players omitted and he can consider himself unlucky as his Australian record has been very good over the past 12 months," Andrew Hilditch, the chairman of selectors, said. "However the panel believes the left-arm orthodox variety Xavier Doherty provides against a predominantly right-handed English middle order is the better option in this game."
Doherty's overall career average is an unimpressive 48.26 in 35 first-class games and he has only been a regular in the Tasmanian outfit since the start of the season. The past six Shield matches over two summers have earned him 23 wickets and he has impressed his state team-mate Ricky Ponting.
Aussie fast bowler Dougie Bollinger returns to the squad after overcoming the stomach injury that ruled him out of the second Test in India last month. Bollinger was hit for a six as Tasmania beat New South Wales yesterday, but he accounted three wickets in the first innings and will battle with Peter Siddle for the final bowling position alongside Mitchell Johnson and Ben Hilfenhaus. The squad is scheduled to arrive at Brisbane on Sunday.