Teen star, bolter in Aussie squad shake-up for India tour

Teenage batter Phoebe Litchfield, ex-Ireland quick Kim Garth and allrounder Heather Graham are all in line to make Australian T20I debuts on next month’s five-match tour of India after bolting into the 15-player touring party.

Alyssa Healy will captain Australia for the first time throughout the series in Mumbai, as Meg Lanning continues her break from the game, while Tahlia McGrath will serve as her deputy.

The tour serves as crucial preparation for the T20 World Cup next February in South Africa, and Australia have made three changes to the group that won Commonwealth Games gold on their most recent international assignment in August.

The new trio replaces Lanning, retired vice-captain Rachael Haynes and leg-spinner Amanda-Jade Wellington.

Australia T20I squad: Alyssa Healy (c), Tahlia McGrath (vc), Darcie Brown, Nicola Carey, Ashleigh Gardner, Kim Garth, Heather Graham, Grace Harris, Jess Jonassen, Alana King, Phoebe Litchfield, Beth Mooney, Ellyse Perry, Megan Schutt, Annabel Sutherland

Prodigiously talented left-hander Litchfield has been on the radar of national selectors since making her WBBL debut aged 16 in 2019; the now 19-year-old has earned her first spot in a senior national squad after producing her best WBBL campaign to date for Sydney Thunder, hitting 280 runs including two fifties.

Garth, meanwhile, could make an international debut for a second country.

The pace bowler represented Ireland on 85 occasions after making her debut aged 14 in 2010, before moving to Australia in 2020 to take up a Victorian contract and pursue life as a professional cricketer.

Litchfield powers Thunder with back-to-back fifties

The 26-year-old obtained permanent residency earlier this year, and last played for Ireland in 2019, and the three-year gap in international cricket fulfills the ICC’s eligibility requirements to switch countries and wear Australian gold.

Hurricanes and Tasmania pace-bowling allrounder Graham has played one ODI for Australia in 2019 but was a traveling reserve during the one-day World Cup in New Zealand earlier this year.

She was also a brief addition to the T20 side that toured Ireland in July when Jess Jonassen was a late arrival due to COVID.

Healy’s elevation to captain for the tour comes after she was appointed vice-captain following Haynes’ retirement from international cricket in September, while McGrath has been given a chance to build on her leadership skills after two seasons in charge of the Adelaide Strikers.

Clean bowled! Garth goes straight through Piparo with a beauty

While there are spots in Australia’s batting line-up available to replace Lanning and Haynes, who were typically named at No.3 and No.5 respectively, the national side is expected to fill those positions with players who are already regular squad members.

McGrath and the in-form Ashleigh Gardner could both be promoted up the order, while Ellyse Perry and Annabel Sutherland, who were part of the Commonwealth Games squad without playing a game, made strong cases for recalls with excellent WBBL campaigns.

That means other in-form bats including Brisbane Heat opener Georgia Redmayne and Sydney Sixers’ Erin Burns, both named in the official Weber WBBL|08 team of the tournament, were overlooked.

Graham’s breakthrough fifty lifts Canes

A focus on pace bowling and the continued good form of fellow leggie Alana King appears to have pushed Wellington out of the squad despite another typically impactful WBBL season.

The 25-year-old earned an international recall earlier this year for the ODI World Cup, where she played two matches, and while she was part of the Commonwealth Games squad, she has not featured in an Australian T20I XI since their last tour of India in 2018.

“It’s pleasing to have been able to reward Phoebe, Kim and Heather for strong form throughout the WBBL and hopefully they get the chance to show what they can do at some stage during the series,” Australia’s Head of Performance and National Selector, Shawn Flegler he said.

“We’ve had an eye on Phoebe for a while and she’s really taken her game to the next level this summer … she’s made her mark at the top of the order for the Sydney Thunder and we’re looking forward to seeing what she can do in Australian colours.

“Kim’s another who’s been in our thinking, she’s had a couple of strong seasons with the ball and adds extra depth to our pace bowling stocks.

“Heather hasn’t had many opportunities to break into the side, but she’s cleaned away with both bat and ball in domestic cricket (and) adds depth to the middle order.”

Leg-spinner Georgia Wareham (knee) and fast bowler Tayla Vlaeminck (foot), who both hold Cricket Australia contracts, remain on the recovery trail, with the former expected to make a comeback to either club or state cricket early next year.

Two-time T20 World Cup winner Sophie Molineux’s hopes of an international recall were dashed earlier this month when she ruptured her ACL playing for Melbourne Renegades.

The Australian squad will depart for India on December 4, ahead of the first match on December 9 (12.30am AEDT December 10).

All five matches will be broadcast live on Fox Cricket via Foxtel and Kayo.

The tour of India will be followed by a home series against Pakistan in January featuring three ODIs and three T20Is before Australia travel to South Africa for their T20 World Cup defence.

Australia’s T20I tour of India

December 9, DY Patil Stadium, Mumbai (Dec 10, 12.30am AEDT)

December 11, DY Patil Stadium, Mumbai (Dec 12, 12.30am AEDT)

December 14, Brabourne Stadium, Mumbai (Dec 15, 12.30am AEDT)

December 17, Brabourne Stadium, Mumbai (Dec 18, 12.30am AEDT)

December 20, Brabourne Stadium, Mumbai (Dec 21, 12.30am AEDT)

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