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Opinion

Whisper it, but Australia finally have Test XI again which picks itself

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Expert
25th November, 2019
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For the first time in a long time, Australia’s Test XI picks itself as they head into the day-night match against Pakistan in Adelaide on Friday.

Australia have no need to make any changes after their commanding performance in the first Test where their batting line-up dominated, even without input from Steve Smith – and their pace attack was impressive.

The only concern for Australia on the bowling front is the ordinary form of off-spinner Nathan Lyon. The veteran was below his best in the first Test as he took 2-114, and in his past ten Tests has averaged 41 with the ball.

Lyon also had minimal influence in his three Sheffield Shield games for NSW this summer, taking seven wickets at 36.

Although Australia’s quicks are in fine form and are powering the attack, the home side will need Lyon to have a greater impact in the upcoming series against a strong New Zealand side. The world’s second-ranked Test team, New Zealand yesterday destroyed England by an innings and 65 runs in the first Test in Mount Maunganui.

Lyon has a fantastic Test record against the Kiwis, with 30 wickets at 23. His spot is under zero threat at present due to the lack of any other proven Test spinners, aside from Steve O’Keefe whose international career seems to have been stalled by off-field indiscretions.

Lyon’s long-time bowling colleague Mitchell Starc entered this Test series under scrutiny after patchy performances for Australia, which saw him omitted for four of the five Ashes Tests. Australia’s chief selector Trevor Hohns added further pressure when, prior to the first Test, he flagged the possibility of Queensland swing bowler Michael Neser playing at Adelaide.

As much as Neser has earned a crack at Test cricket, Starc deserves to keep his spot. Grabbing 7-125 at Brisbane, the left armer proved valuable on a very good batting strip. With fellow quicks Josh Hazlewood and Pat Cummins bowling dry, Starc’s ultra-attacking method added nice variety to the home attack.

What’s more is the second Test will be played under lights and Starc has an outstanding record with the pink ball. In five day-night Tests, he has taken 26 wickets at 23. And his Test record under lights at Adelaide is even better – 17 wickets at 19.

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Australia's Mitchell Starc celebrates after taking a wicket

(AP Photo/Rick Rycroft)

Based on form, then, there is no need for Australia to tinker with their attack for the second Test. The only reason they may consider a change is due to concerns about workload, as Australia have a packed Test schedule this summer. They have only eight days off between the Adelaide Test and the first Test against NZ, which starts on December 12 in Perth.

Australia consistently have tried to juggle their fast bowling assets during such condensed periods of Test cricket. It is possible that, with a 1-0 lead in the bank, they may consider resting one of Starc, Hazlewood or Cummins at Adelaide to keep them fresh for the blockbuster series against NZ.

Their batting selections, meanwhile, are straightforward. Veteran opener David Warner allayed concerns about his form with 154 in his only knock at Brisbane. His opening partner Joe Burns solidified his position by making 97 in a giant opening stand with Warner.

At three and four Marnus Labuschagne and Steve Smith are automatic picks, while number five Matt Wade looked in nice touch as he made 60 in the first Test. Behind him at six, Travis Head was also cruising before he was a tad unlucky to get out caught down the legside from a rank delivery for 24.

That top six is one which looks capable of carrying Australia through this whole summer and perhaps even beyond. Burns, Wade and Head should be given the remainder of this summer to try to cement their spots.

After the dizzying selection revolving door of the past 18 months, Australia finally are in a position to build some stability.