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Australia well set for South Africa Test tour

Ronan O'Connell Columnist

By Ronan O'Connell, Ronan O'Connell is a Roar Expert

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    After a summer of shock selections, Australia’s Test XI is set in stone for next month’s tour of South Africa, with the one exception being uncertainty about rookie opener Cameron Bancroft.

    The bowling attack of Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood, Pat Cummins and Nathan Lyon picks itself, Tim Paine has nailed down the keeper spot, the Marsh brothers are on fire, and Usman Khawaja is back in the runs.

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    Unfortunately for Bancroft, who has laboured in his debut Test series, he is unlikely to get another chance to bat in this fifth Test, with England in dire straits at 4-93 still needing another 211 runs to make Australia bat again.

    Not only has Bancroft averaged just 25, he’s also looked vulnerable to fuller deliveries pitched on and around off stump, an awful weakness for an opening batsman. South Africa’s skilful pace attack would pepper the top of his off stump, ensuring that this technical shortcoming was tested constantly.

    It’s doubtful Bancroft will play in that series. Most likely the selectors will look to either to elevate Shaun Marsh to open, a position where he’s had generous success previously, or reinstate one of Joe Burns or Matt Renshaw. The former has been in fine form in the Sheffield Shield, with 514 runs at 57.

    Renshaw, meanwhile, has had a wretched season but he could yet vault himself back into the Test team should he make a big knock in the next round of the Shield, after which the squad for South Africa should be announced. While he’s only an outside chance of returning for that series, the selectors could be swayed by Renshaw’s ability to blunt the new ball, which is a crucial attribute in South African conditions.

    Otherwise, the selectors should have an easy time picking the squad to take on the Proteas.

    Khawaja’s fluid 171 in this SCG Test has eased any concerns about his form, while Shaun Marsh (156) and Mitch Marsh (101) both signed off with centuries yesterday.

    Australia’s long-shaky middle order now looks solid thanks to that pair and wicketkeeper Tim Paine, who has made 192 runs at 48 this series. Yet again yesterday Paine made batting look easy. While he will face far sterner challenges in South Africa, he looks to have the temperament and technique to counter their pace.

    While champion paceman Dale Steyn is now injured again, harming his preparation for the series against Australia, South Africa still have three other world-class quicks in Kagiso Rabada, Vernon Philander and Morne Morkel. Australia’s one advantage in that series will be in the spin department.

    Proteas tweaker Keshav Maharaj has made a great start to his Test career but Australia played him well last summer, as he averaged 40 across two Tests.

    Nathan Lyon, meanwhile, is the form Test spinner in the world, having grabbed 61 wickets at 22 in the past 12 months.

    Yesterday Lyon produced one of the balls of the summer to castle English veteran Alastair Cook. Speared in towards Cook’s pads, the delivery turned sharply and then clipped the top of off stump as the Englishman was caught on the crease.

    Dawid Malan was also beaten in the flight by Lyon, playing back to a ball which demanded he come forward. When Malan was adjudged LBW England slid to 4-68 and their chances of avoiding defeat all but disappeared.

    Joe Root (42*) and Jonny Bairstow (17*) offered some resistance and at least one of them will have to construct a monumental knock today to save England from a 4-0 series loss.

    Ronan O
    Ronan O'Connell

    Ronan O'Connell has been a journalist for well over 13 years, including nine at daily newspapers in WA. He now traverses the world as a travel photojournalist, contributing words and photography to more than 30 magazines and newspapers including CNN, BBC, The Toronto Star, The Guardian, The South China Morning Post, The Irish Examiner and The Australian Financial Review. Check out his work and follow him on Twitter @ronanoco

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    The Crowd Says (76)

    • January 8th 2018 @ 6:21am
      TheBigNoobOp said | January 8th 2018 @ 6:21am | ! Report

      Agree entirely Ronan. The team has looked like they’re all very comfortable and playing with confidence together, bar Bancroft. My only worry in elevating Shaun Marsh up the order would be the weakening of the middle order who will be crucial in South Africa. He’s been so consistent this series and has given us the stability we need down the order.

      • January 8th 2018 @ 8:50am
        Ross said | January 8th 2018 @ 8:50am | ! Report

        I love Shaun Marsh in the middle order, Khawaja is most suited to opening and has always done well when he opens or if he bats early so open with Khawaja and move our skipper to 3. Then you can have either burns or handscombe coming in to the middle order

        • Roar Guru

          January 8th 2018 @ 9:36am
          Edward L'Orange said | January 8th 2018 @ 9:36am | ! Report

          Why put Burns (an opener) in the lower down to fill an opening at the top. Just put Burns in as an opener and be done with it. My only concerns is mental scars, because he got dropped after a poor series against them.

          • Roar Rookie

            January 8th 2018 @ 9:57am
            Matthew Pearce said | January 8th 2018 @ 9:57am | ! Report

            He was only given one test, doubt there’s any problems mentally.

            Too many runs over the past few years to care either.

          • January 8th 2018 @ 10:09am
            jameswm said | January 8th 2018 @ 10:09am | ! Report

            Agreed – if they drop Bancroft, only do it to replace him with another opener.

            The rest of the XI is pretty settled – don’t change them.

    • January 8th 2018 @ 6:34am
      Simon said | January 8th 2018 @ 6:34am | ! Report

      Yep. Don’t like the idea of elevated Marsh either. He’s been such a rock for us coming in at 5 after Smith and seems to be a good batsmen to build an innings around

      • January 8th 2018 @ 10:10am
        jameswm said | January 8th 2018 @ 10:10am | ! Report

        He and Smith have both been very hard to dislodge. They have made our middle order solid this summer.

    • January 8th 2018 @ 7:10am
      Harrythetorch said | January 8th 2018 @ 7:10am | ! Report

      There is no way either Marsh is moving anywhere in the order for at least the next two tests

    • Roar Rookie

      January 8th 2018 @ 7:20am
      DJ DJ said | January 8th 2018 @ 7:20am | ! Report

      It would be madness to elevate Marsh. It’s working so well now, why change it. Burns has been unlucky in the past so is due. Bancroft is unplayable now so he should regain some confidence at shield level and return again in the future.

    • January 8th 2018 @ 7:41am
      Adam said | January 8th 2018 @ 7:41am | ! Report

      Paine indeed looks very composed and organised at the crease. It’s hard to fathom why his first class batting record over the years has been so mediocre, but nice to see him taking his opportunity.

      • January 8th 2018 @ 8:06am
        dangertroy said | January 8th 2018 @ 8:06am | ! Report

        It took years and multiple operations to recover from a broken finger. After lengthy layoff, he was so worried about being hit in the hand again, it massively affected his batting. He had to remodel his batting as he has to hold the bat differently. It took a long time, plus a few other technique changes to come good.

    • Roar Guru

      January 8th 2018 @ 7:43am
      Chris Kettlewell said | January 8th 2018 @ 7:43am | ! Report

      Pretty much agree with everyone here. Right at the moment, Burns is looking the best option for the opening slot. After his good form in the Shield, he’s continued that good form into the BBL also, and really looks to be in the best batting form of his career right now. And he’s really the only domestic opener showing the sort of form to really be considered. Shaun Marsh has really helped to solidify the middle order, so would much rather bring in Burns to open than push Marsh up to open and bring in someone a bit more untested for the middle order.

      • January 8th 2018 @ 8:53am
        Ross said | January 8th 2018 @ 8:53am | ! Report

        Chris we keep moving through openers when we already have one in Khawaja who could be the opener warner needs. Like langer move him from 3 to opener as he does really well whenever he does open or is in early and that way burns or handscombe can go in to the middle order and our captain can come in at 3

        • January 8th 2018 @ 10:11am
          jameswm said | January 8th 2018 @ 10:11am | ! Report

          Why move Smith to 3 when he’s averaging 70+ at 4?

          Leave him at 4.

          • January 8th 2018 @ 12:04pm
            James Jackson said | January 8th 2018 @ 12:04pm | ! Report

            I think he averages almost as much at 3 though …

      • January 8th 2018 @ 10:44am
        Geoff from Bruce Stadium said | January 8th 2018 @ 10:44am | ! Report

        Agree Chris. Burns is in terrific form at the moment in all forms of the game so he appears to be the logical choice to open with Warner. Bancroft has real technical issues with the way he is vulnerable to full pitched deliveries just outside off stump. His footwork and the shape of his forward defensive strokes and drives are all over the place. He looks like he needs some extensive work in the nets.

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