Australia’s Test squad was headlined nine months ago by those who made the cut, as national selectors scrambled to find capable batsmen.
Baggy greens were handed out – six times in four months to be precise – while others were awarded recalls after excruciating waits.
But when Australia’s Ashes squad is named later this month, it will be headlined by who has missed the cut. Such is the talent pool suddenly available, at least one batsman more than worthy of national selection will be sent straight to Heathrow Airport.
Stream over 50 sports live & anytime on your TV or favourite device with KAYO SPORTS. The biggest Aussie sports and the best from overseas. Just $25/month. No lock-in contract. Get your 14 day free trial >
The others will be sent to Birmingham where Australia must start its Ashes campaign at a venue it hasn’t won at in any format since 2001.
England is understandably the series favourite – the nation is on its home turf where Australia hasn’t won a Test series since the same year. The odds suggest that will stay the same, but Australia will at least be grateful that the series is this year, because last year, its batting stocks were slim.
In one scrape of sandpaper on a ball, Australia lost three incumbent batsmen; Steve Smith, David Warner and Cameron Bancroft.
It became abundantly clear in the coming months that Australia was ill-prepared to deal with the exodus as it lost a Test series to Pakistan and then – for the first time ever – to India at home.
But there were personal success stories across the two series, with Travis Head, Aaron Finch, Marcus Harris and Marnus Labuschagne making Test debuts. Three remain incumbents and in the mix for Ashes selection, with only Finch truly failing to make the most of his chance with 278 runs at 27.80.
SELECTION TWIST: Wade’s Ashes chances boosted
OPINION: What must not be forgotten in cricket’s cruellest defeat
EXCLUSIVE: ‘It’s a clear mistake’ — Cricket official confirms major World Cup gaffe
Australia then played Sri Lanka in a two-Test series in February that saw one more batsman earn his Baggy Green – Kurtis Patterson – while fast bowler Jhye Richardson was the last debutant of the summer.
Patterson also grabbed his chance with both hands, scoring an unbeaten 114 on his way to 144 runs at 144.00 for the series. He remains in contention for the Ashes, too.
But there are other batsmen’s hats in ring that haven’t featured for Australia in the past year, or ever.
Smith and Warner are the obvious ones. Their 12-month ball-tampering suspensions have been served and – if the World Cup is anything to go by – neither have lost their touch. Warner was one run shy of being the tournament’s joint top-scorer (647 at 71.88), while Smith’s 379 at 37.90 didn’t tell the full story as he batted lower than usual.
The tournament also saw wicketkeeper-batsman Alex Carey become a bona fide star of Australian cricket, as he carved out 375 runs at 62.50 with a strike rate of 104.16. He did so predominantly from No.7 before earning a late promotion to No.5 that saw him make a gritty 46 off 70 balls with blood pouring from his chin.
His ability to adapt the tempo of his batting and consistently perform under pressure has seen the likes of Michael Vaughan, Steve Waugh and Shane Warne say he’s worthy of a Test debut. The latter two suggested that could be as a specialist batsman, not as a back-up wicketkeeper.
“He reminds me so much of Michael Hussey,” Waugh told the BBC. “It looks like he’s got every facet of his game under control.
“I think he’s definitely in the frame to be picked purely as a batsman. I’m not a selector, but he’s definitely good enough.”
Warne added: “The way he’s played through this tournament he might be a chance to play as a batsman in the Ashes.”
But he isn’t the only wicketkeeper-batsman with a strong case.
In fact, based on recent performances in England, Matthew Wade’s might be ironclad.
Wade hasn’t played a Test for Australia since September 2017 but has just about ticked every box since October to do so again.
For starters, he was last season’s second-highest scorer in the Sheffield Shield with 1,021 runs at 60.05. And since arriving in the UK last month for an Australia A tour, he has made scores of 117, 155, 41, 42 and 114.
He isn’t the only Australian giving British scoreboards a workout this winter.
Labuschagne would hope to bottle whatever he’s found at Glamorgan in division two of the County Championship, in which he is top-scoring with 1,114 runs at 65.52.
Bancroft has also impressed as captain of Durham with 726 runs at 45.37, while Joe Burns made 133 runs off 241 balls for Australia A against Sussex just last week.
The fact you probably need a calculator to count the possible combinations Australia might have at Edgbaston on August 1 pays tribute to the side’s batting depth, and how far it has come in a short space of time.
Competition for spots can only be seen as a good thing, and Australia’s batsmen currently have it in spades.