The first Test against Pakistan is barely two weeks away and there has been lots of talk about the importance of the three day match between Australia A and Pakistan, starting next Monday.
The match has been billed as a Test selection battle, according to the headline that appeared on the Cricket Australia website. The team chosen for this game contains many of the best Australian cricketers currently playing the game – but realistically, what chance do the bulk of these players have of forcing their way into the Test side for Brisbane on the 21st of November?
Here are my picks for those most likely to be selected for the first Test.
1. David Warner
2. Marnus Labuschagne
3. Steve Smith
4. Matthew Wade
5. Tim Paine
6. Pat Cummins
7. Josh Hazlewood
8. Nathan Lyon
On paper this leaves an opening batting spot, a middle order spot and a third fast bowler spot up for grabs. In reality, there’s probably only the third fast bowler to be decided from a host of strong contenders.
Joe Burns has done enough to warrant selection for the first Test. He’s gotten starts in his five Shield innings, including 52 against a strong NSW attack and 76 in the clash with WA – again playing well against a quality attack.
He’s also made these runs on the Gabba, where there’s been plenty of encouragement for the fast bowlers. Equally importantly, he’s a right hander and selectors would be wary about taking an all left hand opening combination into the first Test given the struggles of Warner and Marcus Harris in England.
Harris hasn’t harmed his chances playing back in Australia with a century and a 60, but his poor showing in the Ashes – coupled with how he’s been dismissed in recent innings – haven’t helped him either.
In three of his past four innings he’s been caught in the slips twice and played a shot best described as a hoick and was out for lbw. Even the fourth dismissal – out hooking – showed poor judgment, given the field had been set for exactly that shot.
The other possible contenders have fallen by the wayside. Matt Renshaw and Cameron Bancroft are batting poorly in four day cricket, Nic Maddinson has only been so-so away from Melbourne and Usman Khawaja just isn’t firing on all cylinders in red ball cricket.
The middle order spot – that some thought should be given to Will Pucovski – will be returned to Travis Head. That is, Head should be given back the batting spot that selectors said they only took from him in the last Ashes Test so they could provide bowling support for a tired Australian attack.
Head also reminded selectors of his class with an excellent hundred against an attack including Hazlewood, Lyon and Trent Copeland in the recently completed Sheffield Shield game against NSW.
Pucovski started off the season with a hundred and a 60, but his last three Shield innings of two, three and seven must have selectors asking whether he’s ready to step up.
Clearly he can score runs when conditions suit, but he’s been out a couple of times playing the short ball very awkwardly which no doubt would be something the Pakistan quicks would target.
That leaves the third fast bowling spot and it will be interesting to see whether selectors go with someone who could play all five Tests this summer, or choose a quick suited to conditions in Brisbane. In any event, there are at least four or five in form bowlers who would do a job for Australia – if they were chosen to play in Brisbane.
The three day Australia A game will hopefully be more than just a centre wicket training run for Pakistan. It will be interesting to see how their team plays against some quality opposition. It may also be a selection trial for Pakistan, but for Australia – probably not.