With Australia nearing the end of its 2016-17 home Test schedule, one eye of every fan is already on next summer, with England flying in for cricket’s pinnacle: the Ashes.
Last Ashes – which saw England victorious 3-2 – debate raged over whether to play ageing veterans Shane Watson and Brad Haddin, both of whom ultimately retired following the series.
In the last home Ashes – 2013-14 – the Australian XI was settled bar the number six batsman, with the selectors ultimately picking George Bailey in what would prove to be the only five Tests of his career.
With the Ashes less than a year away, Steve Smith, David Warner and number three Usman Khawaja are the only batsmen guaranteed starting spots, with Peter Handscomb likely to join them.
Here are the Australian batsman vying for the other two spots:
Two Tests, 121 runs at 40.33, one 50
The surprise of the summer, Renshaw looks a great pick for the future by the selectors. Putting a price on his wicket with a temperament rarely seen at 20 years of age, Renshaw’s ability to bat for at least 30 minutes and see off the new ball, even when he misses out on runs, is the type of player Australia desperately need. His catching at first slip is an underrated asset in a poor fielding side.
However, Renshaw is raw and with a technique that relies heavily on leg-side scoring, always a danger in Test cricket. He also needs to score more singles to rotate the strike to key man David Warner, part of the reason Warner has missed out in his last four innings.
A tough examination in India will decide if he’s ready for the pressure of Ashes cricket, but Renshaw will be around the Australian side for a decade.
Chances for first Test: 70 per cent
19 Tests, 1325 runs at 40.15, five 50s, four 100s
Just as he was beginning to nail down a spot as Warner’s opening partner, injury struck – a common theme for the left-hander.
Now 33, the Ashes will be Marsh’s last shot at leaving a legacy on Australian cricket. With an average of above 40, the foundations are solid, but the West Australian’s penchant for either going past 50 or getting out for single-figure scores (he has been dismissed under 10 a whopping 11 times) continues to frustrate.
His advantage is that he can bat anywhere in the order, and make big scores, including hundreds, in a team that sorely lacks that player in the middle order.
He is likely to be around the group, even as a reserve batsman, and a spot could open up at number six given Australia has a continued weakness there.
A big Indian series – if he gets an opportunity – will decide his fate.
Chances for first Test: 60 per cent
Two Tests, 5 runs at 1.66
With Test stats that belie his talent, Maddinson has the ability to change a game that many other Australians lack.
The New South Welshman was another pick for the future, however his modest first-class record is telling, and with a habit of nicking balls outside off stump, Maddinson has been found out at Test level. Number six does not appear to be an ideal position either.
The 25-year-old needs a good two Tests against Pakistan, and then to demonstrate an ability to play spin in India to stand any chance of making the first Test.
Chances for first Test: 25 per cent
Zero Tests, 3025 first-class runs at 34.77
Although his first-class statistics are unappealing, Head is rated highly by Australian officials, and has begun to establish himself in the one-day team.
Captain of South Australia at just 22, Head is seen as future (and current) leadership material, and the selectors are keen to push him through. Although his average of just under 35 is modest, that number has improved by four over the past season, and he is averaging a whopping 60.33 this season. His slow bowling is handy too.
Head has also begun to convert his 50s, and with two hundreds this season, watch for him to break into the Australian side in the next few seasons. Whether the Ashes is a season too early for him remains to be seen.
Chances for first Test: 35 per cent
Zero Tests, 2331 first-class runs at 41
Still just 23 years of age, Patterson will surely make his Test debut sometime soon. The left-hander from New South Wales has had an above average Shield season, with 382 runs at 42.44.
However, he has failed to set the world on fire, and looks to be another big season away from really hammering down the door.
A player who can bat anywhere in the middle order, Patterson looks likely to be around the side for at least the next few seasons, and should get his chance by the time the return series in England comes around in 30 months’ time. Next summer however, may come just too quickly for him.
Chances for first Test: 15 per cent
Zero Tests, 2618 first-class runs at 31.92
Another player whose average belies his form, Harris is the leading run-scorer in the Shield this season (480 at 60). With four 50s and one century, the West Australian-born Victorian is the man in form this season.
His main weakness is his habit of getting out for only single-digit scores or over 50, although Harris seems to have ironed this out somewhat this season.
If Harris can keep up his form in the second half of the season, and end up near the thousand-run mark, he would almost begin force his way into the side for the Ashes. Still only an outside chance, however.
Chances for first Test: 10 per cent