Revealed: Aussie batsmen gunning for selection
STEVE Smith, David Warner and Cameron Bancroft are all suspended while Usman Khawaja is on crutches and racing to be fit for the start of the Test summer.
The end result could be Australia taking on the world's best Test team, India, without the entirety of the top four that played in last summer's Ashes. That's particularly worrying given the batsmen that finished that campaign batting at five and six, Shaun and Mitchell Marsh, averaged 3.50 and 7.50 respectively in the Test series against Pakistan.
With plenty of spots up for grabs, we take a look at some of the contenders.
MATT RENSHAW - Queensland
Left out in the United Arab Emirates because of a lack of game time, Renshaw is short odds to return to the top of the order in Australia whether Khawaja is fit or not. The left-hander helped himself to a century in Brisbane Premier Cricket on Saturday and will be looking to pile on the runs in Queensland's four Sheffield Shield fixtures before the first Test.
PETER HANDSCOMB - Victoria
Averaging a healthy 43.63 in Test cricket, Handscomb looked to have rediscovered his best form in the one-day cup, scoring 361 runs at 51.57 with four half-centuries. The right-hander started his Sheffield Shield season with a disappointing 27 against Western Australia, but if his white-ball form is anything to go by he is seeing it well. A couple of strong performances over the next month would not go amiss.
CALLUM FERGUSON - South Australia
Cruelly axed after just one Test in 2016, Ferguson will be hoping to get his baggy green back out in December after a strong 18 months in cricket. The South Australia veteran averaged close to 50 (780 runs at 48.75) in last summer's Sheffield Shield, dominated both of England's white-ball tournaments in the winter (328 at 54.66 in List A, 390 at 48.75 in T20), and scored two centuries in the one-day cup (328 at 54.66). South Australia coach Jamie Siddons sees no reason Ferguson can't go on to emulate Mike Hussey and enjoy a fruitful Test career post-30.
MARCUS STOINIS - Western Australia
After two lean Sheffield Shield seasons, Stoinis slid down the Test selection pecking order. He'll have to do a fair bit to dislodge the team's vice-captain to take over as Australia's seam-bowling all-rounder. Stoinis was in fine touch for Western Australia against Victoria in the opening round of the Sheffield Shield, scoring a first-innings 80 and taking 4-73. He was similarly impressive in the one-day cup (181 runs at 90.50, one wicket at 15.00).
GLENN MAXWELL - Victoria
A somewhat surprising omission in the UAE, Maxwell has got his work cut out for him to earn selection against India given selectors have only ever picked him for Tests in Asia. Maxwell won't get too much of a chance to impress against the red ball before the first Test given he is currently in the UAE for Australia's T20 series and is likely to feature in the one-dayers against South Africa in November. Justin Langer has said runs across all formats will be taken into consideration, so some big scores against the white ball may be Maxwell's best chance of winning Test selection. He was one of only five players to average more than 50 and score more than 300 runs in the Sheffield Shield last summer.
JOE BURNS - Queensland
Burns had the highest average of anyone that finished among the top ten run-scorers in last summer's Sheffield Shield season (725 at 55.76) but was still left out against Pakistan. He posted scores of 16 and 0 last week against Tasmania but fared well in the one-day cup (223 at 55.75).
JAKE WEATHERALD - South Australia
Weatherald is an outside chance of earning Test selection this season. The 23-year-old opener was the Sheffield Shield's fourth-highest scorer last season, and averaged more than 50 in this year's domestic One-Day Cup. He's no stranger to big scores in all formats either, scoring one T20, three first-class and four List A centuries since 2016. Weatherald made scores of 14 and 3 in South Australia's first Shield match of the season.
MATTHEW WADE - Tasmania
Tim Paine's spot is in no way under threat, so if Wade is to win selection it will have to be as a specialist batsman. His case is better than you might think. The left-hander averaged a healthy 43.60 last summer in the Shield and has started this one with twin half-centuries against Queensland. The second of those half-centuries came after Tasmania had slipped to 4-36 which could weigh in his favour given Australia's current issue with batting collapses.
WILL PUCOVSKI - Victoria
Pucovski is the eighth-youngest player to ever score a double-century in the Sheffield Shield and the first since Ricky Ponting in 1994 to do so before turning 21. The right-hander made a huge statement last week by scoring 243 for Victoria against Western Australia and is clearly a batsman with an appetite, having scoring 188 runs against Queensland last summer. Pucovski is only seven matches into his first-class career and will have to carry on his form over the next four rounds to earn a baggy green.
JAKE DORAN - Tasmania
Five years after Greg Chappell compared him to Mike Hussey, 21-year-old Doran is delivering on the enormous potential he showed all the way through Cricket Australia's underage program. The fifth-highest scorer in last summer's Sheffield Shield season (756 at 44.47), Doran is a man who loves to occupy the crease which is important given Australia's tendency to collapse. The left-hander was out for 7 and 11 against Queensland and needs to make up ground quickly if he is going to be a serious contender.
CAMERON WHITE - Victoria
If youth is not vital to earning Test selection then White could be Australia's solution. The middle-order batsman still finds himself in fine domestic form after stroking 332 runs at 47.42 for Victoria on its way to the one-day cup title this month and made 574 runs at 52.18 in last season's Sheffield Shield. At 35 years old - but a month younger than Shaun Marsh - with 169 first-class caps under his belt, White's experience could unlock the door to a Test recall.
KURTIS PATTERSON - NSW
Patterson has proved himself to be a reliable batsman and consistent performer over a long tenure with New South Wales. He has made 3414 first-class runs at 39.69 since making his debut for the Blues seven years ago, with his biggest issue being converting fifties into centuries - he has 23 first-class half-centuries and five hundreds. At just 25 years old, Patterson's first-class experience around Australian grounds arguably exceeds his age. He's also shown his leadership potential by taking the NSW reins in the one-day cup in the absence of Peter Nevill. Has made a rocky start to the Shield season with scores of 17 and 12 against South Australia.
DANIEL HUGHES - NSW
Like Paterson, left-handed opener Hughes has quietly built a solid red-ball resume at the Blues over several years. He averages 38.36 in first-class cricket, and most recently made 661 runs at 41.31 in last season's Sheffield Shield. He has, however, regularly caught people's eye in white-ball formats. The 29-year-old has made 879 runs at 51.70 in List A cricket, and 792 at 31.68 in T20s. Hughes scored a first-innings 60 against South Australia in NSW's first match of the Shield season and fell for 18 in the second innings.
JAKE LEHMANN - South Australia
Lehmann slipped down the selection pecking order after a poor Sheffield Shield season last summer (536 at 28.21) but his first-class numbers are better than most of the contenders with 2486 runs across 38 matches at 39.46. The left-hander started this season with a first-innings half-century against NSW (61) but it was his unbeaten 33 to save the match that drew the plaudits.
The only box Finch left unchecked against Pakistan was a truly big score. The Victorian made 181 runs across the first two Tests of his career and enjoyed starts in every innings. All but a lock for the first Test.
If he's match fit he's playing.
The senior Marsh brother struggled against Pakistan (14 at 3.50) and has not had a good time since the end of the Ashes (161 at 13.40). However, he is also a proven performer at home (1027 at 44.65) and was a huge contributor last summer (445 at 74.16). Given those numbers and his experience it would be folly to rule him out of contention against India.
The all-rounder fared marginally better than his older brother against Pakistan, averaging 7.50 for the series and has averaged 17.16 since the end of the Ashes. It is not a formline that reads well, but given he is the team's vice-captain and averaged 106.66 last summer he is still the frontrunner for the all-rounder's slot.
Head can be quietly confident he did enough to please selectors against Pakistan, thanks largely to the crucial 72 he scored in Dubai. Still, he will have to score runs in either the Sheffield Shield or in the one-dayers against South Africa to cement his spot.
Labuschagne's best work against Pakistan came with the ball, taking seven wickets at 22.42 with his leg-spin. However, in Australia that spin is unlikely to be enough of an asset for him to be considered an option as an all-rounder. Weighing in the rookie's favour is that he improved with each innings in the UAE, finishing his campaign with an assured 43 in tough spinning conditions.