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Dropping Head for Marsh was a mistake

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Expert
11th September, 2019
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Matt Wade and Marcus Harris deserve their chance in the fifth Ashes Test at The Oval, while Travis Head is tremendously unlucky to have been dumped for all-rounder Mitch Marsh.

Australia last night made the shock decision to call up perennial under-performer Marsh for the final Ashes Test at the expense of Head, who averages 43 with the bat after 12 Tests.

I went into great detail last week as to why I thought it would be foolish to play Marsh in this series

Although Head has faded in the past two Tests, after making a good start to this Ashes, his excellent beginning to his Test career surely should have earned him greater patience from the selectors.

It is especially baffling for him to be dropped for a player in Marsh who has averaged ten with the bat and 59 with the ball in his past six Tests.

It is not as though Head has stood out as a failure with the bat in this series – 10 other batsmen across both sides have also had shockers. It has been a series dominated by bowlers.

Australia have struggled to unearth good young Test batsmen over the past decade so it was folly to dump Head after the first form blip of his career. Labuschagne, Smith and Head look as though they could be a long-term three-four-five combination for Australia. Nothing about Marsh, meanwhile, screams “long term”.

Australia's bowler Mitchell Marsh receives the ball as he prepares to bowl against South Africa.

Mitch Marsh (AP Photo/Themba Hadebe)

In any case, the failures of Australia’s batting line-up in this Ashes means the likes of Kurtis Patterson, Joe Burns and Will Pucovski could press hard for selection in the upcoming home Test series against Pakistan.

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Wade, in particular, faces a pivotal moment in his Test career in London. Soon to turn 32 years old, the left hander was not picked on his potential to become a long-term Test batsman.

Instead he was chosen due to a belief he could make an immediate impact in this series – that his rampant form at lower levels had to be exploited.

For this reason his Test future should be, and I imagine will be, viewed differently to the likes of Harris, who is five years younger than Wade.

After making a ton in his previous Test, 26-year-old Kurtis Patterson was dumped to make room for Wade. There was some sense in making that call on the basis of Wade’s scorching touch and the need to pick an Ashes squad for the here and now.

If Wade fails again at The Oval, though, there will be no justification for retaining him against Pakistan. The here and now selection strategy was an attempt to end Australia’s long run of failures in the UK. It is not a wise long-term approach.

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Australia need to try to build the core of a quality Test side, one that can become consistently excellent. The likes of Head and Labuschagne have showed signs in their brief Test careers they may become pillars of Australia’s top six.

Patterson, Burns, Pucovski and Matt Renshaw are four more batsmen who are young enough and sufficiently talented to potentially become fixtures of the Australian side. That is why Wade has no time to waste.

Warner, meanwhile, is almost a year older than Wade. The key difference is that the opener has an extraordinary record in home Tests which makes him an automatic pick against Pakistan, regardless of what happens at The Oval.

From his 38 home Tests, Warner has piled up 3,698 runs at 60, including a phenomenal haul of 15 tons. Of course, that record in no way guarantees him success this summer.

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His form has been so dire in this Ashes that it could well carry over into the two Tests against Pakistan. Time will tell.

Meanwhile, Burns, Harris, Cameron Bancroft and perhaps even Usman Khawaja will soon engage in a Sheffield Shield shoot-out to claim the second opener’s spot.

There will be four rounds of the Shield before Australia name their squad for the series against Pakistan, which starts on November 21.

But first, of course, there is a fifth Ashes Test – the time is now for Harris and Wade.