THE Australian Cricket Ashes squad has been announced with selectors saying they have picked 16 players they believe give them the best possible chance of winning in English conditions.
The squad is Michael Clarke (C), Brad Haddin (VC), Jackson Bird, Ed Cowan, James Faulkner, Ryan Harris, Phil Hughes, Usman Khawaja, Nathan Lyon, James Pattinson, Chris Rogers, Peter Siddle, Mitchell Starc, Matthew Wade, David Warner, Shane Watson.
National selector John Inverarity said Australia was under no illusion that this is going to be a huge challenge.
"We certainly go into it as underdogs with England playing very good cricket with an experienced and settled team that plays well at home.
"In saying that, this squad will be very competitive and fight hard every inch of the way. We have high expectations of this team and if they play to their potential we feel we can mount a very strong challenge.
"You will immediately see that Brad Haddin has come in as vice-captain.
"The CA Board approved the NSP's (National Selection Panel) recommendation that Brad take up the vice-captaincy. As the case with the awarding of player contracts, Michael Clarke was not part of the decision to recommend Brad.
"Having said that, Michael absolutely supports the NSP and the board's decision to appoint Brad as the new vice-captain of the Test team.
"In regards to the vice-captaincy, we feel it's important to have a senior, seasoned player support Michael at this time. When Shane Watson advised of his decision to stand down, the NSP viewed Brad as the exceptional candidate to step into this leadership void.
"Matthew Wade is a very good cricketer and remains central to our plans for the future.
"New members to the group include Chris Rogers and James Faulkner, while Ryan Harris returns from a long absence from international cricket.
"Chris Rogers is a hardened first-class cricketer and has been given a deserved opportunity on the back of sustained run-scoring in both Australia and England over many seasons.
"He has vast experience in the UK and has performed outstandingly well over there; during the past four seasons in England, between 2009 and 2012, he has scored more than 5,000 first-class runs at an average of 52.3, including 17 centuries and 21 fifties.
"James Faulkner has also been given an opportunity after impressing in recent months as an all-rounder.
"His performance in last month's Bupa Sheffield Shield Final was compelling and he has now produced three consistently good seasons with the ball at Shield level for Tasmania.
"He is a player who is seldom out of the game for long. He takes wickets, forms partnerships and makes valuable runs.
"Ryan Harris has regained fitness and it is great to have such a very highly regarded and well-performed pace bowler back in the mix.
"Nathan Lyon is the only spin bowler selected but we will be keeping a close eye on others in case another spinner is required. We'll have approximately 30 players in England at the start of the northern summer and the NSP can add to the Ashes squad at any stage if the need arises.
"The tour to India was very demanding and a learning experience for all.
"The result was unacceptable and the players, coaches, support staff and NSP are smarting from those performances and are galvanised to ensure that we play tough, competitive cricket throughout the Ashes.
"Shane Watson is on track and very keen to bowl during the series and we look forward to his all-round contribution. Without the extra burden of the vice-captaincy, he will be able to focus 100% on his batting and bowling.
"From the Indian tour squad, Steve Smith and Mitchell Johnson narrowly missed selection but we'll continue to keep a close eye on their performances. Smith will play a key role for Australia A and has been appointed vice-captain of that squad.
"Moises Henriques, Xavier Doherty and Glenn Maxwell are the other players not to have retained their places in the squad.
"Ben Hilfenhaus also came under consideration for selection for both squads but at this point in time others were viewed as having stronger claims."
Specifically on the Australia A, Inverarity said: "There is some exciting young talent in the squad with the likes of Ashton Agar, Jordan Silk, Alex Doolan, Chadd Sayers and Nic Maddinson given deserved opportunities."
"The NSP was particularly captured by Silk's start to his first-class career, with two centuries in his first three games including in the Bupa Sheffield Shield Final. His poise in those very important matches was impressive for someone just 21 years of age and we look forward to seeing how he performs.
"We are looking forward to watching the progress of young WA spinner Ashton Agar during the Australia A series. Agar was impressive during a short stint in India and at the backend of the domestic season in his Bupa Sheffield Shield matches.
"Doolan again had a consistent season, including a century against South Africa early in the summer in the tour match, while Sayers showed great ability to swing the ball with good control in a strong season for the Redbacks.
"Maddinson led the New South Wales run scorers in the Shield last season and he's a talented player we've been keeping tabs on.
"The bulk of our Ashes bowling attack - James Pattinson, Peter Siddle, Ryan Harris, Jackson Bird and Nathan Lyon - will use the 'A' matches as important preparation for the Ashes.
"Brad Haddin will also get some valuable preparation for the Ashes in his leadership role captaining the side.
"In relation to Fawad Ahmed, we have selected only two spinners in the Australia A squad. Including three spinners would have upset team balance.
"We are planning a further Australia A tour to South Africa in mid-July and it is our intention to include Fawad in that squad."
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