CHANNEL Nine has reacted with bemusement to the omission of Michael Hussey and David Warner from Australia's one-day squad, concerned it dilutes the appeal of the series against Sri Lanka.
Hussey, who completed his final Test at the SCG on Sunday, was left out of the 13-man squad for the first two ODIs in Melbourne on Friday and Adelaide on Sunday, denying the retiring veteran an extended home farewell tour. Warner has been rested for the first two matches, as has wicketkeeper Matthew Wade and Test captain Michael Clarke, who is being given time off to recover from a hamstring strain. An injured Shane Watson is also missing.
A new-look team featuring Phillip Hughes and Usman Khawaja, and a recalled Brad Haddin, will be led by Australia's Twenty20 captain George Bailey, but the absence of Hussey and Warner has not impressed broadcaster Nine.
''From an entertainment point of view, and as a fan, I struggle to understand how those two are not in the side,'' said Steve Crawley, the network's director of sport.
''There is no doubt we've got to bring in new players - I think that's a good thing - but I don't get leaving out Warner and Hussey. When my kids play in the yard, they're David Warner and Michael Hussey.''
Nine is conscious of the ratings boost that drawcards such as the big-hitting Warner, and sentimental favourite Hussey, could provide.
The ODIs regularly reach an average five-city metropolitan audience of 1.2 million but could potentially take a hit. Nine is also in a delicate position in its efforts to retain cricket's broadcasting rights. Rival networks Seven and Ten are expected to make formal bids in the next fortnight, but Nine's last-rights option is likely to see it trump those offers and sign a new five-year deal as early as this month.
Crawley insisted Nine and Cricket Australia maintained a good relationship but was disappointed with
the selectors' decision. ''We've got different agendas, but as a fan, if I was picking the side, I'd have Warner not only in the side but as captain,'' he said.
''And as far as Michael Hussey goes, he's Jack Nicholson if you're making a movie. I'm into the romance of it all but I think we should be celebrating his final summer all the way.''
Cricket Victoria boss Tony Dodemaide said he understood the disappointment of fans but also the logic of the selectors, and could not predict whether the absence of several drawcards would diminish the crowd on Friday night.
The Melbourne Cricket Club is expecting between 25,000 and 30,000 people at the MCG for the first ODI.
''It's an understandable reaction that people want to see the Warners and Clarkes play, but the reality of modern cricket is they can't play every game, and if they do there is going to be fallout in some form down the track,'' Dodemaide said.
''After six Tests, it is probably the logical time to give these guys a break.
''To Victorians I would say, we've got four guys in the squad, including two of the most exciting young players in the country in [Aaron] Finch and [Glenn] Maxwell.''
National selector John Inverarity said he believed the Australian squad named was a ''particularly exciting side'', and defended the move to usher in the likes of Finch, Hughes, Khawaja and Ben Cutting.
''How will we know about the best players of the future if opportunity is not invested in them?'' he said.
Inverarity said Warner needed a spell after a demanding schedule that, since August, had taken him to the United Arab Emirates for one-dayers, the World Twenty20 in Sri Lanka, the Champions League in South Africa and six Tests against South Africa and Sri Lanka.
''You never want to miss a game for Australia, but obviously getting two games off is fantastic for me to mentally prepare for the one-day series and the Test series coming up in India,'' Warner said.
Inverarity said giving the 37-year-old Hussey a farewell in the five ODIs against Sri Lanka and February's five-match series against the West Indies was discussed but selectors opted to look to the future.
''Our intention before two weeks ago was to give Michael a break during the Sri Lankan series and then have him refreshed and ready to come back into the ODIs against the West Indies and then off to India,'' Inverarity said. ''Of course, things changed a bit last week [when Hussey announced his retirement] … but the overriding fact is what's best for Australia, and we're very mindful of the 2015 World Cup.
''We think these ODIs are very important in terms of players like Khawaja and Hughes and others having the opportunity being within the team and being in the ODI side rather than playing Big Bash League partly as an opportunity for India for those selected.''
AUSTRALIAN SQUAD (for first two ODIs): George Bailey (c), Ben Cutting, Xavier Doherty, Aaron Finch, Brad Haddin, Phillip Hughes, David Hussey, Mitchell Johnson, Usman Khawaja, Glenn Maxwell, Clint Mckay, Steve Smith, Mitchell Starc.