Australia v Pakistan - 1st Test Preview

Australia v Pakistan - 1st Test Preview

Australia Unchanged For Brisbane With Shaun Marsh Deemed Unfit 

Australian selectors have unsurprisingly named an unchanged line up to tackle Pakistan in another Day/Night Test match starting at the Gabba next Thursday. The only real contention revolved around whether Shaun Marsh would have slotted back in for debutant Matt Renshaw, however Marsh has once again been ruled out through injury. It's an interesting discussion point whether Marsh could have forced his way back into the side at the expense of Renshaw if available. Renshaw made an encouraging debut in Adelaide, with scores of 12 and 34 n/o, he managed to occupy the crease under pressure in the second innings. With the youngster doing his job to a large degree, and Australia winning for the first time in six matches, it would seem a strange decision in some ways to axe the 20-year old for an injury prone, ageing and inconsistent performer like Shaun Marsh has been for over a decade.  Whilst you had to be impressed with the youngster's cool demeanour and gutsy innings, he did look a bit raw in terms of his overall technique and confidence at this level. South Africa really suffocated him especially in and around off stump leading to a number of play and misses. 

I can understand the point of view which says Australia should do away with Marsh given his fragile body keeps failing him and at 33 years of age that it is unlikely to get any better. However, I also think you have to pick your best 11 players with an eye to the crucial tour of India in February. Marsh has been in excellent form when available of late, scoring two centuries and one half century in his last three Test matches, and is probably in the top few players of spin in the country. Whilst I am not his biggest fan, as I think he is the sort of player that can go through long slumps, his average of 40 from 19 Tests is decent and seemingly on the improve. Renshaw should tour India if he can back up his debut with another solid performance here but Marsh should tour if fit. 

Khawaja Makes His Mark

I doubt Darren Lehmann will be leaving Usman Khawaja's name off the "certainties" list again in the short term in terms of the Test batting line up. Lehmann infamously named only 4 "certainties" to be picked for the next Test Match after Australia's demoralising 5th straight loss in Hobart. Those names were predictably David Warner, Steve Smith, Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazlewood. However with five centuries in the last calendar year, and  with an average of 47 and climbing, Khawaja is starting to ink his name on the team sheet on a more permanent basis. I  have been banging on about his mental toughness as a batsman this summer, despite his seemingly laconic and laid back nature. Well he didn't let me down in Adelaide with the innings of the summer under the lights and up against the pink ball. Khawaja became only the third Australian batsman to score a century in their last six Test matches with a classy and patient unbeaten 140 in Adelaide where he carried his bat for the entirety of Day 2. Perhaps more impressive, Khawaja flourished in two night sessions where the pink ball tends to play havoc and nip around considerably.  Thrust into the opening role on Day 1, Khawaja was 14 not out after the night session on Day 1. Whilst his first 80 deliveries yielded just 18 runs, Khawaja  expertly left the seaming ball and occupied the crease before more favourable daylight conditions allowed him to flourish on Day 2. 

Whilst it might have been his first innings as a Test opener, Khawaja is no stranger to opening the batting and I believe it is probably his best position. I think he is a better fit there overall without the pressure of having to life the tempo as a number 3 in the mould of Ricky Ponting. Khawaja spent all of his junior and Grade career as an opening bat, plus the first half of his Shield career. While  his comments about being made a "scapegoat" raised eye brows it showed a man of conviction with plenty of self-belief. He put pressure on himself and he has backed that up with runs against a high class bowling attack. India will present a far different challenge for Khawaja in terms of conquering spin, but Khawaja is in the right head space to attack that challenge head on. 

Handscomb Looks Like He Belongs 

It's a big call after one game, however I feel Peter Handscomb looks like he belongs at this level. Handscomb batted with real intent and belief, and I think he can make himself a lock in the sides batting line up alongside the likes of Warner, Smith and Khawaja in the next couple of years. In a game where the ball nipped around and most batsmen had to really graft for their runs, Handscomb made a bright and breezy 54 from 78 balls, batting at Number 5. Handscomb has an interesting technique, batting deep in his crease with a wide stance. These are probably not two methods that come straight out of the coaching manual, however many different types of technique are seen these days in cricket. 

Often some of the best players in the world, like Steve Smith, Shiv Chanderpaul, Kevin Pietersen, even going back to Brian Lara, are unorthodox. Handscomb likes to play the ball late, and is a particularly strong player off the back foot, as he cut and pulled with authority against a strong South African attack.  His footwork and use of the crease against spin was excellent,  as he demonstrated exactly why many rated him as the best batsman against spin in the country. Even in the second innings Handscomb danced down the track to hit the winning runs, without having scored yet, showing exactly the sort of self-belief you need at this level to succeed. Handscomb also took a ripper of a catch in the gully and, being an accomplished wicket keeper, could easily serve as back-up keeper or in the slips cordon over time. 

Hazlewood Firing 

Perhaps the only doubt over the final 11 for Brisbane was whether Jackson Bird would retain his pace ahead of Chadd Sayers. Bird got a couple of key wickets but was otherwise slightly below his best in Adelaide, claiming match figures of 3/111. It would be a harsh call on Bird, however Sayers can consider himself a touch unlucky having been in red hot form having just claimed 8 wickets in South Australia's 2-wicket win in the Pink Ball Shield match against a strong New South Wales line up at Adelaide Oval. Sayers has now taken 14 of his 29 Shield scalps with the pink ball this year.

One player not so worried about his place anymore is Josh Hazlewood. Hazlewood has really established himself this summer as Australia's leader of the pace attack alongside NSW team mate Mitchell Starc. Hazlewood, with 17 wickets at an average of 22 in 126 overs of toil. Hazlewood throughout the series went for less than 3 runs an over, proving he can tie down an end as well as pick up crucial wickets. During the series Hazlewood totally dominated and nullified the tourist's best player in Hashim Amla. Amla had a quiet series, with just 98 runs at an average of 19, with Hazlewood dismissing him on all five occasions. Hazlewood was considered the next Glenn McGrath as an 18-year old, however experienced several injury interrupted seasons. At 25 years of age, he finally appears to be establishing himself with a consecutive run of Test matches and strong performances. Hazlewood is an aggressive fast bowler, but in a completely different mould to Starc. Hazlewood pounds away on a relentless line and length, forcing batsman to go looking for things that might not be, exemplified by a couple of Amla's wild drives which led to his downfall against the young quick. With 23 Test matches under his belt, Hazlewood is closing in on 100 wickets, with 94 scalps at an impressive average of 25.