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Ashes questions have to dictate Brisbane and Canberra selections

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Expert
7th January, 2019
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Just over two hours of play in two days means we can chalk one up for the mizzly Sydney weather; rain that was too heavy to play through but not really heavy enough to actually wet anything, and light that was kind of dim but not really so dark that you’d drive home with the lights on.

Did the drawn SCG Test actually save the Australians from humiliating defeat, or did it cost them the opportunity to make the hard, but not-unwarranted call on a couple of batsmen?

The former is definitely true, but I can’t help but fear the latter will be used to take a similar squad into the two-Test series against Sri Lanka, to be played in Brisbane and Canberra in late January-early February.

And that would be a huge mistake, but it actually gets worse.

Rather ridiculously, the squad for the series will be named not after the selectors use the ODIs as a chance to look at a few options against international opposition, but in fact this week – possibly as soon as Wednesday.

Under normal circumstances this would be straight-out madness, but after what’s gone on selection-wise this summer already, it may not even be in the semi-finals for stupidity.

With just these two Tests before the Ashes kicks off at Edgbaston on August 1, there is no longer the time nor any credit left over from the Perth win to give one last go to guys who’ve essentially failed in the last four.

Despite this news and despite what this news does for the confidence that some hard decisions will be made, these are the questions that really should be guiding selections for the uppcoming Tests.

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Do Steve Smith and David Warner come straight back into the top six?
I always thought to Smith would come straight back in and that Warner might have a harder time, but the ongoing struggle to find an opening partnership almost certainly ensures Warner has to come straight back, too.

There’s been a bit of commentary over the last few days about the possibility of a Warner-Marcus Harris partnership for Edgbaston, and I’m warming to that idea.

Cameron Bancroft doesn’t come straight back in – he’s not a better option than Matt Renshaw or Joe Burns, either.

And if the answer to the Smith and Warner question is ‘yes’, then the Sri Lanka Tests need to be the audition for the remaining batting spots. Assuming a squad of 17 players for England, as per the last two tours, the split is going to be something like seven bats, seven bowlers, an allrounder, and two wicketkeepers.

Already, the current top six plus Smith and Warner is too many, and that’s without adding Marcus Stoinis, Glenn Maxwell or Mitchell Marsh to the mix.

Harris is worth persisting with. Usman Khawaja will be among the first bats picked. Marnus Labuschagne, Shaun Marsh, Travis Head and Peter Handscomb are all far from certain. Even less so if Renshaw and Burns or other players outside the squad are genuinely in the mix as you’d hope they are, after a series in which Harris’ 79 is the lowest Australian high score for a series in a century.

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Australia's David Warner and Steve Smith

Australia’s two best batsmen are out of action until the Ashes.(AFP PHOTO / GREG WOOD)

If Smith and Warner do come straight back in, is Shaun Marsh still needed?
The need for Marsh to be the senior member of the middle order in this time of crisis was there and justified, but he failed miserably. If Smith and Warner do come straight back in, it’s really hard to see how Marsh can still command a place.

And if that’s the case, then there’s really no point playing him in Brisbane and Canberra.

I like Marsh as a bat. On his day, there aren’t many better batsmen in Australia to watch. But at 35 years of age, and an eighth series average under 30 from 38 Tests across 16 series, the time for Marsh to be picked on potential has surely passed.

Worryingly, it’s happened before, and after this summer, nothing will surprise me.

Is Alex Carey the next wicketkeeper in line after Tim Paine?
I think he is, but that doesn’t mean I want him in the Test team now. Or in the short term, for that matter.

But if Carey really is the next in line, then it should dictate that there isn’t a lot of point to picking Matthew Wade as a batsman in the top six. Wade’s season for Tasmania has been strong, and it’s carried on for Hobart in the BBL, too. He’s not, however, any better than any of the other top six options out there, though.

But Carey’s development and progression can be aided by going to England, just as it did for the likes of Paine, as well as Brad Haddin and Adam Gilchrist before him.

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Who are the next best bowlers in Australia?
Only injury will prevent Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood, Pat Cummins and Nathan Lyon playing the first Test in August, but the question of their back-ups is nowhere near as certain.

Are Peter Siddle and Chris Tremain still fourth and fifth-choice in the pace ranks? Will Australia need a second genuine spinner on tour (and who would that be now)? Where does James Pattinson fit in, now that he appears to be fit again? Is Jhye Richardson ready for Test cricket?

And is there merit in sitting Starc and Hazlewood out of one or both of the Sri Lanka Tests? Could the back-up pace berths be decided by a good, old-fashioned bowl-off?

With the Border-Gavaskar Trophy on its way back to India, the thumping series loss will be for nothing if the Australian selectors and coaches aren’t prepared to learn from the mistakes made.

And with an Ashes tour looming large, this upcoming Sri Lanka series is the last chance to adjust and experiment.

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Dumbfoundingly, we find out this week if that chance will be taken.