Steven Smith’s men bear a strong resemblance to Allan Border’s side of 1987, defying expectations and succeeding in India. All that could have gone right for them has. Well, almost. The one chink in their armour has been the all-rounder spot.
Scores of 4, 31, 0 and 13 don’t do Mitchell Marsh’s reputation as a top-six batsman any good, and it isn’t as if he has been terrorising the opposition with his mid-120 kmph bowling.
Used as an afterthought thus far in the series, bowling a grand total of five overs in four innings, one does wonder what Marsh brings other than family name.
It might be a blessing in disguise that Marsh has been ruled out of the series due to a shoulder injury. A change in the playing XI for the Aussies is thus inescapable when the two teams head to Ranchi.
But while Marcus Stoinis has been called into the squad, the real shoot-out could be between Glen Maxwell and Usman Khwaja for the vacant spot.
The familiarity of Khawaja
Before being made a scapegoat along with Joe Burns after the series against Sri Lanka, Usman had scored 1726 runs at an average of 47.94 in 23 Tests, with five hundreds and eight fifties. He also had a productive home season – scoring close to 600 runs at an average of 58, with one hundred and five fifties.
Having been unfairly dropped for Shaun Marsh after such a good season, it is only fair that Usman is allowed a chance at reclaiming his place.
That said, there is a growing perception that he is not at ease in the subcontinental conditions. When he last played in Asia, Usman was axed for his ineptness against spin, Rangana Herath and Co. exposing his technique. Caught in the crease a few times, Khawaja fought his way to a highest score of 26 in four innings against the Lankans, which isn’t what one expects of a top-order batsman.
The team management too, seems to have lost confidence in Khawaja’s abilities in Asian conditions, preferring Shaun Marsh and even Matthew Renshaw over him.
If the Australians do finally decide to give Khawaja a heads up, it will be based more on hope rather than rationale.
The lure of Maxwell
Flown in as all-rounder who could roll his arm over when required, Maxwell could swap in for Mitchell Marsh without altering the overall composition of the team.
That he has plenty of experience of batting at number six, albeit in limited overs format, only adds more weight to his claim.
Further, Maxwell doesn’t have the ghosts of subcontinental failures hovering. To the contrary, it was in India that Maxwell first became a world-known commodity, after he was bought by the Mumbai Indians in the IPL auction for $1 million in 2013.
His performances in the IPL pushed him into Australia’s limited overs teams, he held his own against Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja in the 2013 ODI series, scoring 248 runs at an average of over 40 and a strike rate above 150. Even in the yearly carnival that is the IPL, Ashwin and Jadeja have often been tamed by this Victorian.
Maxwell’s off-spin will also be a welcome addition. Starting with a third seamer in Indian conditions was a mistake to begin with, which can easily be corrected by including Maxwell, who could give a well-deserved break to other bowlers.
And while critics argue that Maxwell’s devil-may-care attitude might be his undoing in Indian conditions, players such as Virender Sehwag and Kevin Pietersen have shown how an attacking approach is not an impediment to success in India. Mitchell Starc’s exploits as a batsman in the series so far also point to the fact that having an attacking batsman in your team is not such a bad thing after all.
One can only wonder what might have been had Maxwell walked out to partner Peter Handscomb chasing 188.
With the series wide open at 1-1, this decision could very well determine the outcome.