Usman Khawaja will be key for the Thunder.
Usman Khawaja will be key for the Thunder. Quinn Rooney

Strikers get some good ones back for semi

The Sydney Thunder's task against the Strikers in the first semi-final of the Big Bash tonight just got a lot harder - legend Mahela Jayawardene is back.

The Sri Lankan top-order batsman returns after spending the past two matches on the sidelines recovering from a quadriceps strain, with Kelvin Smith making way.

In further good news for Strikers fans, paceman Gary Putland joins the side for the first time this summer following a calf injury.

Putland has overcome a calf injury which he suffered early in the Strikers' season, and replaces Greg West in the line-up.

Apart from Jayawardene, Travis Head - whose form has earned him a spot in the Australian T20 squad - Jono Dean and Tim Ludemann have all been among the runs.

Dean hit 48 from 35 balls and Ludeman scored 49 from 41 balls in the team's 27-run win over the Melbourne Renegades on Monday night.

The fourth-placed Thunder also finished the regular season with a win, all-rounder Shane Watson making 66 from 41 balls and quick bowler Clint McKay taking 3-16 in the 46-run victory over the Sydney Sixers on saturday night.

McKay took 14 wickets during the home-and-away stage of the competition, behind only brilliant Strikers leg-spinner Adil Rashid with 15.

Meanwhile, uncapped South Australia seamer Chadd Sayers and Tasmania quick Jackson Bird have been included in Australia's 14-man squad for next month's two-Test tour of New Zealand.

The pair will replace fast bowler Scott Boland and left-arm orthodox spinner Steve O'Keefe.

Paceman Peter Siddle also returns after recovering from an ankle injury he suffered during the Boxing Day Test.

Sayers came from obscurity with an incredible 2012-13 season, topping the Shield wicket tally with 48 at 18.52.

The 28-year-old picked up 36 wickets the following season, with an ankle injury cutting short his 2014/15 summer, but he took 16 wickets in four matches for the Redbacks before the Big Bash break this season.

Bird has been the standout bowler for Tasmania.

In five Shield matches this summer, the lanky right-armer has taken 22 wickets at 24, second only in the competition to South Australia's Joe Mennie, who has 24 scalps.

Australia Test squad: David Warner, Joe Burns, Usman Khawaja, Steve Smith (capt), Adam Voges, Mitchell Marsh, Peter Nevill, James Pattinson, Peter Siddle, Josh Hazlewood, Nathan Lyon, Jackson Bird, Shaun Marsh, Chadd Sayers.

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