Australia will keep the same side for three straight Tests for the first time since early 2018, when they face New Zealand at Optus Stadium on Thursday.
With the first Test only days away and lingering questions still surrounding Australia’s embattled squad, what can we realistically expect out of this summer?
The frontline pace trio that seems a perfect blend of pace, line and length is headed by Josh Hazlewood, Mitchell Starc and perhaps Australia’s form cricketer Pat Cummins.
Hazlewood holds a most reputable economy rate of 2.80, although ‘Mr Reliable’ has fallen short of the mark in recent series. His career strike rate of 57.3 has not befitted his form in 2018 as it currently sits at 80. Of the five matches he has played this year, Hazlewood has only collected 15 wickets.
On Thursday, when he no doubt stands atop his mark at the beginning of the second over, one stat that will be in his favour is that in all first Tests throughout his esteemed career, Hazlewood carries an economy of 2.78 and an average of 51.4.
Hazlewood in the lynchpin of this series – if he is hitting the mark, both Starc and Cummins will be far more effective.
As for Starc, in his 13 innings against India, his best figures are 3-106 and his strike rate balloons from 28.52 to 37.38. However, most alarming is that India have had their way with him here on home soil more than they have on their own pace-killing decks.
Despite this, we can expect better performances from him when everyone is bowling well, as opposed to leaning on him for the breakthrough. As such, with Cummins and Nathan Lyon sure to just bowl well, Starc could be the impact player of the series.
That said, if we are to knock off India, Starc and Hazlewood need to lift.
As for the batting issue, it’s not like we’ve been given a wealth of talent to choose from.
I like Aaron Finch opening and Marcus Harris deserves a shot as his partner. Usman Khawaja has been a favourite of mine for a long time and I expect him to put this line-up on his back and really carry it.
Shaun Marsh is a flat-track bully but will be afforded that here in Australia, considering he hit 163* in Adelaide two weeks ago.
Where the issues arises is at five – the spot to either be occupied by Travis Head or Peter Handscomb. My gut feel is that, on the back of his Head’s 72 in Dubai, he will receive an Australian debut at his home ground. But that may be his sole opportunity to retain selection for the rest of the series, because Handscomb is in better touch at the moment.
Handscomb already has a ton this shield season, as well as two half centuries in his latest outing, so clearly he is in line. Handscomb also brings a right-handed batsman into a top order that has four left-handers were Head picked.
The decision the selectors face at No.5 could be a real conundrum as the series plays out.