Australia A batting battle: Six vying for two Test spots
It seems as though four of Australia's top six batting spots are locked in for the first Test against Pakistan at the Gabba. David Warner, Marnus Labuschagne, Steven Smith and Matthew Wade look assured of playing although it is not set in stone. Australia A play a tour match against Pakistan at Perth Stadium starting on Monday and there are six batsmen in a strong Australia A side vying for the last two batting spots. Here are the arguments for and against their selection in the Test side
For: He is the incumbent and has done nothing wrong in the first three Shield matches this season. He made a century against South Australia and half-centuries against Western Australia and Tasmania, the latter on a bowler-friendly surface in Hobart. He acquitted himself really well against India's No.1 Test attack last summer and there is a case to be made that he needs more opportunity at Test level having played seven of his nine Tests against some of the best fast bowling the world has to offer.
Against: He hasn't made the most of his chances to-date. He butchered some golden opportunities, by his own admission, against India and Sri Lanka last summer, having made just two half-centuries in 17 Test innings so far. The selectors would also be wary of the familiarity of some of his dismissals in the Shield games this summer. With the exception of a brilliant piece of bowling from Jhye Richardson late on day three at the WACA, Harris has found a way to get himself out in his other four innings for Victoria.
For: Four Test centuries in 16 Test matches with an average above 40 speaks about his quality. Given the standard of Australia's Test batting in recent years, it is amazing to think he has been dropped from the team five times, including after making 180 in his last Test, against Sri Lanka earlier this year. With Warner set to open at the Gabba, Burns could provide the right-left combination that was missing in the last three Ashes Tests. He also knows how to build big partnerships, having been involved in three of the last four 250-run partnerships for Australia in Tests.
Against: His Shield form hasn't been at the level of Harris over the last two years. He has failed to convert his last nine Shield half-centuries including two in his five innings this season, although he does have a Test century and a first-class century for Australia A in that time. He does contend with more bowler-friendly surfaces at the Gabba, however, he missed out on posting a hundred against WA, when opening partner Bryce Street was able to do so in just his second game.
For: At his best, arguably only Smith and Warner are better players at Test level, particularly in Australian conditions. Six of his eight Test centuries came in Australia, he averages 40.66 overall but 52.97 at home, and his record as an opener is also exceptional: two centuries and two half-centuries from seven innings at an average of 96.80. He has been unfortunate with some questionable umpiring decisions at the start of the Shield season and has made two centuries in the 50-over Marsh Cup.
Against: There's still a stubbornness to Khawaja in terms of his style of play and the inconsistencies that result from it. Not all players should play in the same manner nor should they be cut from the same cloth. But they can't make the same mistakes over and over again and expect different results. He has been caught behind on three occasions this domestic summer pushing at balls well wide of off stump, something England repeatedly exploited early in the Ashes. Pakistan and New Zealand would aim to do likewise at the Gabba, and under lights in Adelaide and Perth, should he be selected.
For: Head was unfortunate to be left out of the side for the Oval Test. He was nowhere near Australia's worst in England making an important half-century at Edgbaston and a critical 42 not out at Lord's. He has a century and six fifties in 22 Test innings, averaging 42.70 and is still one of the two vice-captains of the side. The Australian selectors insisted he was only squeezed out at The Oval for the allrounder and with six batsmen likely to be picked in Brisbane, he should be first cab off the rank to go back into the side. He scored a timely Shield century against a high-quality New South Wales attack last week, which included Josh Hazlewood and Nathan Lyon, to allay any fears about his recent form.
Against: Head falls in a similar category to both Harris and Khawaja in that there is a concern about the commonality of his dismissals that lead to an inconsistent overall record. He has ridden his luck at Test level having survived a multitude of dropped chances. His inability to defend his off stump at times and curtail his hard hands led to his downfall on many occasions in England and that theme has continued in the early part of the Shield season. Even in his century against the Blues he was caught at cover failing to keep a stock standard drive on the ground. The talent is clearly there, but the selectors will need to weigh up whether he is making the necessary adjustments and scoring sufficiently at Shield level to warrant a recall.
For: There is a clamour to introduce a young player into the side at No. 6 and Pucovski is the obvious choice. Very few 21-year-olds have started their Shield careers in the manner in which he has. He has four Shield centuries for Victoria in just 24 innings, averaging a tick under 50. He has had a good start to the season scoring a century against SA and a half-century against WA. Victoria's coaching staff were impressed with his composure and comfort when facing Jhye Richardson in Perth, who bowled a Test-quality spell. Many good judges around the country think he is ready to step up to the next level after spending time with the Test squad last summer and the Australia A team during the winter.
Against: A number of experts are comparing Pucovski to Ricky Ponting and cite that Ponting, Australia's Test leading run-scorer, got thrown into the Test fray aged 20. This conveniently ignores the fact that Ponting had played 50 Shield innings, averaging 57, and made 11 centuries over three full seasons before being picked for Tests. Pucovski's record and experience so far do not come close to that. He is yet to play a full season of Shield cricket after experiencing mental health issues last year. He is yet to play at every ground in Australia. He hasn't played a first-class match at either the Gabba or the SCG, two of the five Test venues this summer. He also got bounced out by Riley Meredith in Hobart last week in a game where he suffered twin failures. There is a case to be made that he needs more time to develop and work through being targeted by Shield bowlers.
For: Bancroft has the capability of stepping up to the occasion in these cut-throat warm-up games. He came from the clouds in England after an outstanding return at Southampton on a brutally difficult batting pitch to be picked for the first two Tests. In the 2017-18 Ashes, he also timed his run superbly with runs against high-quality attacks in the lead-up to earning his debut.
Against: Form-wise there is not much evidence to warrant a recall. He was not initially selected in the Australia A squad and was only called up due to Nic Maddinson's withdrawal. He has been fortunate to be added as his returns in Shield cricket have been very slim and he has fallen to a leg slip trap in three straight games against three different teams.