THE Test squad for India contains more tourists than a Contiki bus, but there are valid reasons for that. Australia's selectors have had more to contend with than the sudden retirement of Mike Hussey, and that leaves a big enough hole. In uncertain times, injuries to a couple of emerging left-arm spinners have made selections more difficult.
Never mind that pace is Australia's strength, and that disciplined fast bowling to defensive fields was behind the nation's only successful mission to India in the past 44 years, in 2004. Fresher in the memory is a spin-led victory by England in India, so the selectors have searched their stretched spin resources for back-ups and asked Xavier Doherty to team up with Nathan Lyon and Glenn Maxwell. It is not a contingent to strike fear into the hearts of India's batsmen, but it is the best Australia has right now.
Moises Henriques, the other all-rounder, would not be in contention for a Test debut if Shane Watson had not given up bowling for the moment, another unforseen development. Nor can the selectors call on Mitchell Marsh or Andrew McDonald, who are both recovering from long-term injuries. Again, he is the best available seam-bowling all-rounder in the country.
Steve Smith, in his previous Test stint, did not convince as either a bowler or batsmen, but his batting has improved even if his season Sheffield Shield average of 37 doesn't scream for a recall. The inclusion of not one but two audacious young batsmen who bowl a bit of spin, in Smith and Maxwell, seems like overkill but suggests that no one is quite sure who will respond best on a gruelling tour of the subcontinent, and potentially beyond. Simply, the selectors have hedged their bets.
The composition of the squad should help the selectors answer some of the many questions that need to be resolved before back-to-back Ashes.
Of the 17 squad members, perhaps five - Michael Clarke, David Warner (assuming his fractured thumb has healed), Phillip Hughes, Matthew Wade and Peter Siddle - are guaranteed a start in the first Test.
The drawbacks of naming a squad equal in number to the last couple of Ashes parties is that players can become bored, and it can breed further uncertainty. Usman Khawaja, for instance, is the most technically accomplished of the country's fringe batsmen and looks like a logical replacement for Hussey. Now, because of the desire to play an all-rounder at No. 7, he may have to wait longer for a recall to the Test team.
Still, the size of the squad should not be construed as a repeat of the marketing-driven parade of contenders for the first Ashes Test in 2010, which conveyed a cluelessness that eventually led to the sacking of the selection panel. This time the size of the squad reflects the reality that there are few certainties in the nation's cricket stocks right now.