Injuries have massively disrupted Australia’s preparations for the opening test against India in Adelaide, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have options. With the health of Will Pucvoski leaving him in doubt to make his test debut, here is the XI I think should be picked for the first test.
- Will Pucovski (or Marcus Harris if Pucovski is injured)
Up until last week it was a no brainer. Pucovski is so highly touted that he has been in the mix for a baggy green for numerous summers. But after peeling off consecutive double tons in the opening rounds of the Sheffield Shield, the noise surrounding the young Victorian rose to a crescendo. His stroke play all around the ground is impeccable, while his patience and temperament give him the mental skills required to score against a strong Indian attack. The only question mark hangs over his health – if this recent concussion rules him out, then Marcus Harris has to step in to replace him.
Behind Pucovski, his Victorian opening partner has been equally impressive so far in 2020/21. He has the game to step in and replace David Warner, while his small experience at test level may weigh in his favour. Due to numerous injuries plaguing openers, only Shaun Marsh could be considered another opening option, unless Australia want to turn Matt Wade into a makeshift opener (which could go disastrously wrong).
2. Joe Burns
Burns can consider himself incredibly fortunate. If Warner was fit, Burns should have been forced out by Pucovski’s hot start to the summer. Just a couple of years ago Matt Renshaw, a younger and more enticing long-term option, was dropped from the test side due to a lean Sheffield Shield run to start the season. If Renshaw was treated that way, selectors would’ve had to have followed suit for the older Burns. But, Warner’s groin injury means Burns should get the first chance to solidify his spot before Warner comes back in.
3. Marnus Labuschagne
A no-brainer here. Despite an up-and-down start to the summer, Labuschagne is the emerging golden child of Australian test cricket. His breakthrough summer last year was incredible; now, he has the intense challenge of replicating such a feat against the best all-round bowling attack in world cricket. If Marnus can handle Bumrah and Sharma as well as negating Ashwin and Jadeja, he can confirm he really is a class above most other test batsmen.
4. Steve Smith
Smith’s hot ODI form is hopefully a sign of things to come in this test series. Despite struggling against Neil Wagner last summer, Smith has come out firing in 2020/21. His two centuries in the one-day series showed his ability to shift tempos when required, while also proving how well he handles India’s bowling line-up. If Smith has ‘found his hands’ for good this summer, watch out India.
5. Travis Head
Last summer gave Head the impetus to jump above Matt Wade in the middle-order power rankings. After some solid half-centuries early in the series, Head reached his potential in the Boxing Day test with a superb century. He has already been handed some leadership opportunities which could perhaps be a signal of things to come for the mature South Australian. With the competition for batting spots heating up, Head must fire early to keep his place ahead of Wade.
6. Cameron Green
Up until last week Green was probably going to be unfortunate to miss due to Wade’s track record. But his excelling past 18 months in the Sheffield Shield, coupled with his unbeaten ton against India last week for Australia A, means he should be given a chance at test level.
There are many arguments suggesting Green is too young and may not be ready, but consider other stars of the test arena. Ben Stokes was thrown into the fire against Australia in 2013/14 and managed to survive. If Green is really going to be one of our great all-rounders, giving him his chance when he deserves it is the best we can do for him. Think of Australian batting greats like Ricky Ponting – he was given a chance early, and produced one of the great test careers. Green’s bowling may be restricted due to his numerous back injuries, but he offers more for Australia than Wade in both this series and the future summers.
7. Tim Paine (Captain and wicketkeeper)
Paine’s role in this side is understated yet vitally important. Paine may not be the best keeper-batsman in the world, but he is very solid with the gloves and a handy bat. His leadership is where he shines – after resurrecting us from the dark ball tampering days, he should be given license to continue playing as test skipper until he decides to hang up the gloves. It’s a big summer for Paine; my eye is on his batting, where I believe he can contribute more often with lower-order runs.
8. James Pattinson
It’s a toss-up between Starc and Pattinson, but Patto has my vote. His return to test level last summer in the place of the injured Hazlewood was superb. He has the X-factor ability to take hauls of wickets and claim prized scalps. Pattinson looks to be confident and fit, while Starc’s recent limited overs form suggests a lack of confidence. Starc offers plenty as a left-armer, but Pattinson’s swing and pace gives him the nod ahead of Starc in Adelaide.
9. Pat Cummins
An easy selection. Cummins is a star, and can hopefully continue to thwart the Indians. He should now be well-rested and ready to remove Kohli and Pujara on a regular basis. With Starc out, he should also be given new ball duties to prove he is the world’s most versatile pace bowler.
10. Nathan Lyon
Lyon has a massive summer ahead. But every Australian series is important for our greatest off-spinner, who often shoulders the spin bowling lone completely on his own. Lyon looks primed and ready to tie down India all summer long. Hopefully he starts off well in Adelaide and continues to trouble India throughout the rest of the series.
11. Josh Hazlewood
Cummins may be the most skilled pace bowler in the world, but in my eyes Hazlewood is the best. His new ball bowling is tight and breathtaking; with Cummins he could create a formidable opening duo that gains early wickets all summer long. Now looking fit after his hamstring concerns last year, Hazlewood’s skillset means Starc, despite a great summer last year, has to sit out the opening test.
There it is. Starc or Wade can be 12th man, as both are unlucky to miss. There are some harsh calls, but these tight selections show a nation that is gaining more depth in test level cricketers – a superb sign for this series and the future. Let me know what you think on my side.