Khawaja, Head named in 15-man Ashes squad

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Usman Khawaja was helping one-year-old daughter Aisha work on her backyard golf game when George Bailey's name popped up on his phone.

The call, informing Khawaja of his selection in Australia's 15-man Ashes squad, was not something the veteran agonised over or anticipated as speculation grew about a Test recall.

"I'm a big believer in fate. Whatever will happen, will happen," Khawaja said, contemplating the extension of an international career that appeared over when axed in the 2019 Ashes.

The 34-year-old's chilled-out composure is one of several traits that lifted him into a head-to-head showdown with Travis Head over the last spot in Australia's XI for the first Test.

The side is otherwise settled for the Gabba clash starting on December 8, barring a red flag for one of Pat Cummins, Josh Hazlewood or Mitchell Starc amid a quick turnaround from the Twenty20 World Cup.

Incumbent Test opener Marcus Harris has been backed to weather the best of England legend Jimmy Anderson, while Jhye Richardson, Michael Neser and Mitchell Swepson also form part of an enlarged squad for the first two Tests.

Neser has returned to training after a minor hamstring strain, while Test skipper Tim Paine is slated to mark his return via grade cricket this weekend after undergoing neck surgery in September.

A clash involving Australia and Australia A players in Brisbane on December 1-3, the only red-ball match that several stars will play en route to the Ashes, was expected to resolve the divisive No.5 batting spot debate.

But chairman of selectors George Bailey cautioned that tune-up was unlikely to be a "selection tool", hinting he and coach Justin Langer had all but settled whether Khawaja or Head will get the nod.

"We're leaning towards one of them," Bailey said.

"They're both batting beautifully.

"We know both can perform at Test level, positives on both fronts.

"We won't be holding back on it (locking in the XI)."

Bailey praised Khawaja's calm head, consistency and experience after the batter's superb start to the Sheffield Shield season, including a knock of 174 at Adelaide Oval plus a gritty 70 on a Gabba greentop.

Head has not produced a big score since opening his Shield campaign with an eye-catching 163 but Bailey disputed the notion that South Australia's skipper was not in form.

Khawaja and Bailey both praised Head's form at the end of 2020-21.

"He has been batting beautifully the last few seasons. That's the thing people forget, both Heady and myself had good seasons last year," Khawaja told reporters in Brisbane.

"I am very happy for Heady.

"I get along with Heady really well. He's a terrific lad, a great cricketer.

"I have no issue with whoever they decide to go with ... he thoroughly deserves it. If they pick me, I would love the opportunity."

Bailey is keen to embrace a 'pick and stick' mantra regarding Australia's top six this summer, noting it remained "important to give guys an opportunity".

"If you're riding each and every innings then A, I think it puts players under enormous pressure," he said. "B, that's just the yin and yang of the game."

Australia's 15-man Test squad: David Warner, Marcus Harris, Marnus Labuschagne, Steve Smith, Travis Head, Usman Khawaja, Cameron Green, Tim Paine (capt), Pat Cummins, Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood, Nathan Lyon, Jhye Richardson, Michael Neser, Mitchell Swepson.

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