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The upcoming Australia ‘A’ tour of India is set to shape Australia’s batting line-up for their next Test series against Pakistan in the UAE.
With Australia having a huge six-month gap between the Tests in South Africa and this tour against Pakistan, it seems likely most of their incumbent Test batsmen will feature in the ‘A’ tour of India in just over two months’ time.
It shapes as particularly crucial for the Test hopes of Usman Khawaja, Shaun Marsh and Glenn Maxwell, who were all affected by the ‘horses-for-courses’ batting selection strategy Australia used on their two tours of Asia last year.
That strategy, which involved Australia favouring batsmen who were better against spin, saw Khawaja dumped for the series in India, and then recalled in Bangladesh only to be axed after failing in the first Test.
Australia instigated this selection tactic as a response to their humiliating 3-0 loss in Sri Lanka, during which the likes of Khawaja and opener Joe Burns struggled against spin. Khawaja was dropped for the third Test of that series and Marsh came into the team and creamed 130.
Marsh, at that stage, was developing a reputation as an Asian specialist, having made 393 runs at 79 including two centuries in his three Tests on the turning pitches of Sri Lanka. But then he floundered in last year’s Tests in India, averaging 19 across four matches, and was omitted from the squad for the subsequent tour of Bangladesh.
So, despite now being Australia’s two most experienced Test batsmen, Marsh and Khawaja both are vulnerable due to their torrid recent records in Asia. Both batsmen may well have to earn their spot for the Tests against Pakistan via the Australia ‘A’ tour, which is expected to involve two first-class matches.
The same goes for two of Australia’s other Test incumbents, middle-order batsman Peter Handscomb and opener Joe Burns. Handscomb showed encouraging signs in India and Bangladesh, playing spin with authority.
He made 344 runs at 34 across those two series, a solid return for an inexperienced batsman in Asia, a place where so many other Australian batsmen have flopped.
It was pace which was his undoing in the Ashes, with the English quicks exposing his tendency to stay deep in the crease against fast bowling. Handscomb is, alongside Matt Renshaw, the best player of spin currently in the Australian team.
But he too will need runs against India ‘A’, who have a history of fielding strong bowling line-ups in their series against Australia. Burns, meanwhile, has a huge amount to prove against India ‘A’, being still tainted by the debacle in Sri Lanka two years ago.
The Queenslander made 34 runs at eight in that series and looked clueless against the Sri Lankan tweakers. Burns was too slow to read their length and, as a result, was frequently caught on the crease, neither back nor forward. Of course, he wasn’t alone – this was a major issue for most of the Australian batsmen in that series.
Outside of the incumbent Test top six of Renshaw, Burns, Khawaja, Handscomb, Shaun Marsh and Mitch Marsh, the man who looks most likely to press for a starting spot against Pakistan is Maxwell.
The Victorian all-rounder deserves to play in the UAE after being impressive in Asia last year, averaging 37 across four Tests and scoring a rare ton by an Australian in India.
Maxwell has two possible avenues into the Test XI to play Pakistan. The first would be as a replacement for injured all-rounder Mitchell Marsh, who is recovering from ankle surgery and may not be fit for that series.
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The second would be stealing the spot of one of Shaun Marsh, Khawaja, Handscomb or even Burns. Those four batsmen will be in a fascinating shootout with Maxwell, and each other, during what shapes as the most significant Australia ‘A’ tour in memory.
Australia “A” predicted squad for the first-class tour of India
Joe Burns, Matt Renshaw, Peter Handscomb, Usman Khawaja, Shaun Marsh, Glenn Maxwell, Marcus Stoinis, Alex Carey, Ashton Agar, Mitchell Swepson, Jhye Richardson, Chadd Sayers, Chris Tremain.