MITCHELL JOHNSON has lost the battle of the left-armers and will carry the drinks in the first Test against Sri Lanka despite his strong return to the Australian team in Perth a fortnight ago.
Johnson was widely regarded as the best of Australia’s bowlers in the deciding Test against South Africa but has been relegated to 12th man for the opening match of the series against Sri Lanka.
The decision allows exciting youngster Mitchell Starc to string back-to-back Tests while senior pair Peter Siddle and Ben Hilfenhaus return to the side after missing the last Test due to injury.
"Mitch should feel unlucky there’s no doubt about it," said captain Michael Clarke.
As expected, selectors resisted the temptation to pick an all-pace attack for the seam-friendly Bellerive pitch with spinner Nathan Lyon retaining his place in the XI.
"Sidds and Hilf come back into the team as two guys who have performed very well for us in the last 12 months," Clarke said.
"Starc has been in the queue for the last eight to 12 months and we thought he bowled really well in Perth as did Mitchell Johnson.
"It certainly wasn’t a simple decision. All four guys have performed really well. Mitchell Johnson has been performing beautifully for WA as well but this is the XI we’ve gone for.
IN: Australian bowlers Ben Hilfenhaus and Peter Siddle return to the fray, at the expense of Mitchell Johnson. Photo: Getty Images
Clarke denied that part of the reason Starc was chosen ahead of Johnson was to give the 22-year-old veteran of five Tests as much five-day cricket as possible before next year’s Ashes tour.
"I’m not looking at the Ashes at all," said Clarke, who is one of Australia’s five selectors.
"The reason Mitchell Starc’s there is because he’s been next in line in the queue for a while.
"He got one Test in Perth (taking 2-55, 6-154 and scoring 68 not out) ... so it’s not a bad start.
"Whoever we left out in this Test match, it was always going to be a topic of conversation."(Chairman of selectors) John Inverarity (and coach and selector) Mickey Arthur ... need to continue to look to India (Test tour in February 2013) and then to the Ashes.
"But for me as a player and for the rest of this team, we’re focused on this Test match."
Clarke will stay at No.5 in the batting order despite "thinking long and hard" about moving up to either three or four. It means Phil Hughes will bat at three and Shane Watson at four.
"The strength and the advantage that we have in our top four now is that all four have opened the batting for Australia so, against the new ball, they’ll be very well suited,’’ said Clarke, who is the leading Test run-scorer for 2012 with 1358 at 104.46.
Meanwhile, Sri Lanka has plumped for an inexperienced opener to complement Tillakaratne Dilshan at the top of its batting order in Hobart.
Dimuth Karunaratne, 24, was selected ahead of Tharanga Paranavitana. The match against Australia will be only the second Test for the right-hander, after he got a duck and an unbeaten half-century last month on debut at home to New Zealand.
The visitors' pace attack will be as expected, with Nuwan Kulasekera to lead the seamers and be supported Shaminda Eranga and left-armer Chanaka Welegedera.
Australia: Michael Clarke (capt), Ed Cowan, David Warner, Phil Hughes, Shane Watson, Mike Hussey, Matthew Wade, Mitchell Starc, Nathan Lyon, Peter Siddle, Ben Hilfenhaus, Mitchell Johnson (12th man).
Sri Lanka: Dimuth Karunaratne, Tillakaratne Dilshan, Kumar Sangakkara, Mahela Jayawardene (c), Thilan Samaraweera, Angelo Mathews, Prasanna Jayawardene, Nuwan Kulasekera, Chanaka Welegedera, Shaminda Eranga, Rangana Herath. 12th: TBC.
- with Jesse Hogan and AAP