OPINION

Head, Starc lucky to be given Australian Test caps

FORTUNATE: Howard Kotton believes bowler Mitchell Starc was lucky to secure a spot in the Australian Test team. Photo: Matt Roberts/Getty Images

FORTUNATE: Howard Kotton believes bowler Mitchell Starc was lucky to secure a spot in the Australian Test team. Photo: Matt Roberts/Getty Images

Travis Head and Mitchell Starc will play in the first Ashes Test at the Gabba this week, and they have plenty to prove as they can consider themselves fortunate to be selected.

Head was chosen in front of the more experienced Usman Khawaja for the No.5 batting slot, while Starc edged ahead of Jhye Richardson to partner captain Pat Cummins and Josh Hazlewood.

So, on one hand, selectors went for experience (Starc) and the younger man on the other hand (Head). If I was a selector, I would have gone the other way in both cases and here are my reasons.

Richardson v Starc

Despite Starc's record of averaging more than four wickets a Test at the Gabba, Richardson's case for inclusion is irresistible. Richardson has been the outstanding bowler in the Sheffield Shield this summer, claiming 23 wickets at only 13.43.

The West Australian right-armer loves the Gabba, proving too hot to handle for the Queenslanders with his express pace last month.

While Starc provides variety with his left-armers, Richardson has assets that the NSW paceman does not possess.

Starc, Pat Cummins and Josh Hazlewood often extract troubling bounce with their extra height, but Richardson skids the ball through at pace and can gain plenty of movement off the pitch and through the air.

Richardson, 25, is much younger than the 61-Test veteran Starc, who has taken 255 wickets at 27.57. But Starc struggled in his last Test at the Gabba, taking only two wickets for the match as the Indians completed a remarkable series triumph.

Selectors have forgiven Starc for last summer's disappointing return ...

At the time, the left-armer was dealing with personal issues as his father Paul was dying of cancer and he wasn't the only Australian bowler to suffer at the hands of the plucky Indians.

Selectors have forgiven Starc for last summer's disappointing return and backed in his ability of producing the odd lethal ball, but the Englishmen are well aware of his capabilities while they have seen little of Richardson.

Maybe they are looking ahead to the second Test, a day-night affair in Adelaide, where Starc thrives under lights in those conditions.

AN EDGE: Travis Head was chosen over the more experienced Usman Khawaja for the No.5 batting slot. Photo: Chris Hyde/Getty Images

AN EDGE: Travis Head was chosen over the more experienced Usman Khawaja for the No.5 batting slot. Photo: Chris Hyde/Getty Images

Head v Khawaja

Khawaja has done enough this summer to justify another crack at Test cricket. His battle with Head has been hotly contested, with the left-handers each scoring two centuries in the Sheffield Shield this season.

Head, 27, is seven years younger than Khawaja, but the more experienced left-hander has other key factors in his favour.

With this Test being played at his home ground, the Queensland captain will be more familiar with the conditions, which are likely to be suitable for the fast bowlers, given the forecast of rain.

In ideal seaming conditions against a WA attack led by Richardson last month, Khawaja was impressive in making a well-compiled 70.

Khawaja's last Test was at Headingley in 2019 when Ben Stokes inspired an incredible come-from-behind victory for England.

He made only 8 and 23 batting at No. 3 in that Test, but he has an excellent record in this country, averaging just over 50 in 24 Tests, including six centuries. His overall average in 44 Tests is 40.66, slightly better than Head's 39.75 in 19 Tests, and both average under 30 against England - the South Australian failing to have a big impact in four Tests in England in 2019.

But importantly, Khawaja would provide selectors with more flexibility in the batting order.

If openers David Warner and Marcus Harris are not successful in the first two Tests, Khawaja can be promoted up the order and Head or Mitch Marsh bat at No. 5. Head has done everything right to regain the spot he lost last summer and deserves another chance at international level.

Hopefully, selectors have pulled the right rein with him and Starc - only time will tell.

Stick to cricket

Australia is backing Cummins to become a great Test captain, but he has been picked for his ability to lead the nation on the cricket field and not to use the privileged position to preach on other issues.

Cummins is entitled to have his views on climate change and is heavily involved with other athletes in an Australian movement advocating the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions across the globe. But as a professional cricketer who travels all over the world in luxurious planes, his stance smacks of hypocrisy.

While Cummins concedes cricket leaves a giant footprint in relation to this issue, he would be much better served focusing on the batting order, bowling changes and field settings than be distracted by peripheral stuff. He is one of a growing number of sportsmen and women who feel the need to use their fame as a platform to express their views to a wider audience.

Instead, Cummins should stay in his lane and vindicate the selectors' decision to elevate him to the captaincy.

There is plenty of time after his career is over to engage in political and social issues dear to his heart. But, for now, Cummins is there to play cricket and win the Ashes for Australia - that's the way to endear himself to the public.

Has Howard got it right? Email: howardkotton11@gmail.com; Twitter: @HPKotton59.