Melbourne:Australia selectors opted for 20-year-old Phillip Hughes to replace retired opener Matthew Hayden as it named one of the most inexperienced squads in a generation for the three-Test tour of South Africa.
Australia, coming off its first Test series loss on home soil in 16 years and needing to win the return series in South Africa to retain its No. 1 ranking, announced a 14-man squad on Thursday.
Phillip Hughes, the young New South Wales opener, won a three-way race to fill the opening slot created when 103-Test veteran Hayden quit following the 2-1 series loss to South Africa last month.
The search for a quality spin bowling option to replace retired Shane Warne continues, with 36-year-old Victorian Bryce McGain also earning a call up, while Nathan Hauritz was retained.
Hughes edged Phil Jacques, returning from a back injury, and Chris Rogers for the top order position alongside Simon Katich. Hughes has scored 891 runs an average of 74 this season.
If McGain plays in the first Test starting Feb. 26 at Johannesburg, he'll be Australia's oldest Test rookie since Bob Holland made his debut aged 38 in 1984. With Brett Lee and Stuart Clark unavailable because of injuries, 27-year-old Mitchell Johnson, who has 78 wickets in 18 Tests, is the most experienced of the pacemen.
Joining him in the pace ranks are Peter Siddle, Doug Bollinger and Ben Hilfenhaus.
"The development of Johnson and Siddle has been dramatic, and Doug Bollinger debuted well in Sydney and we are confident Ben Hilfenhaus is someone who will succeed at international level," chief selector Andrew Hilditch said. "Whilst the experience and ability of Brett Lee and Stuart Clark will be sorely missed, it does create great opportunities for these young men."
With Andrew Symonds suspended from the tour and Shane Watson injured, Andrew McDonald retained the allrounder slot. McDonald played his only Test in Sydney against South Africa last month.
"This is an extremely challenging, but in the same breath very exciting, period in Australian cricket," Hilditch said. "We have gone through immense change in the last couple of years with many of the true legends of Australian cricket leaving the game.
"We are also enduring an unprecedented run of injuries to many of our contracted players. That being said, with all this has come great opportunity as the side rebuilds."
Hilditch said touring South Africa was one of the most difficult assignments in world cricket.
"South Africa has an extremely strong side and will be extremely tough, particularly in home conditions," he said. "We have the utmost faith in the young group of Australian cricketers coming through. Whilst the next 12 months will undoubtedly be extremely testing and challenging, we are confident that the new breed of Australian cricketers will hold Australian cricket in a strong position moving forward."
Hilditch said Hughes had the potential for a long international career and was chosen because Jaques, who scored a hundred in his last Test, has not played enough cricket since his back operation.
Marcus North is the other uncapped player, the right-hander selected as a backup batsman and offspin bowler.
Hayden, 37, decided against trying to win selection for the Ashes tour later this year after averaging just 23.93 in his last nine Tests. He scored 8,625 runs at 50.73 in his Test career.
Australia: Ricky Ponting (captain), Michael Clarke, Doug Bollinger, Brad Haddin, Nathan Hauritz, Ben Hilfenhaus, Phillip Hughes, Michael Hussey, Mitchell Johnson, Simon Katich, Andrew McDonald, Bryce McGain, Marcus North, Peter Siddle.