'I’m worried about our side': Slater

The reliance on Australia's leadership duo with the bat has the champion batsman concerned

Former opening batsman Michael Slater says Australia’s Test middle order is of "great concern" with the first Ashes clash just over two months away. 

Slater, who played 74 Tests from 1993 to 2001, says Australia’s inconsistent batting unit heavily depends on the output of senior batsmen Steve Smith and David Warner.

"I’m worried about our side – it still relies on Warner, Smith," Slater said on Channel Nine’s Sports Sunday.

"(Peter) Handscomb is at five, (Glenn) Maxwell’s got to shine. There’s a lot of interest there. 

"(Matthew) Wade as ‘keeper, he’s got to start scoring runs."

A glance at the statistics of Australia’s Test batsmen supports Slater’s worry.

At the end of Australia’s two-Test tour of Bangladesh, the 15-man traveling party boasted 51 Test centuries, of which Smith and Warner evenly contributed 40. 

Usman Khawaja (five), Peter Handscomb, Matthew Wade (two), Glenn Maxwell and Matthew Renshaw (one) are the other players to have reached triple figures in the Baggy Green.

However, the raw numbers do not tell the whole story.

Warner (66 matches) and Smith (56) are comfortably Australia’s most experienced batsmen, with Khawaja (24) in third place.

In addition, Smith is the top-ranked Test batsman in the world, and after back-to-back hundreds in Bangladesh, Warner sits at No.5. 

The numbers also do not show the improvement and development of younger players such as Handscomb and Renshaw, who are both in their first year of international cricket.

The pair have played 10 Tests now since debuting together in the day-night Adelaide Oval Test last summer, and while they’ve consistently contributed without dominating, Handscomb says now is no time to be complacent.

"The moment you start feeling comfortable and safe in your spot is when your performances start to decline," Handscomb told cricket.com.au. 

"You get into that comfortable headspace and you’re not really pushing yourself. 

"The beauty about Australian cricket is that it is so strong and there are 10, 15, 20 batters waiting in the wings for anyone to make a mistake in the Australian team and take their spot. 

"I feel happy with what I’ve been doing and I feel like I belong in the team at the moment but it’s a fickle game and can change pretty quickly."

While Handscomb, who averages 54.92 at Test level, is likely to feature at No.5 in Australia’s middle-order this summer, the spot below him is more uncertain. 

Maxwell is the leading contender having played four consecutive Tests in he middle order, three batting at No.6, and scored a maiden century in Ranchi at fourth-drop to boot.

But on home soil, Australia’s selectors have tended to pick a seam-bowling allrounder, which means incumbent No.6 Hilton Cartwright is a strong candidate for the first Ashes Test in Brisbane starting on November 23. 

Slater, a veteran of 20 Ashes Tests, says the National Selection Panel should persevere with the Victorian and let him grow in the role at the highest level.

"They’ve got to stick with (Maxwell) because it takes some time," he said. 

"Not every player comes in and performs first Test. 

"He’s played a handful (of Tests) now, (the selectors) have got to go with him and certainly for the first Test in the Ashes."

The national side is in India preparing for tonight’s opening one-day international in Chennai on a limited-overs tour that features five ODIs and three T20 internationals.  

Australia's Qantas Tour of India

Australia ODI squad: Steve Smith (c), David Warner, Ashton Agar, Hilton Cartwright, Nathan Coulter-Nile, Patrick Cummins, James Faulkner, Aaron Finch, Peter Handscomb, Travis Head, Glenn Maxwell, Kane Richardson, Marcus Stoinis, Matthew Wade, Adam Zampa.

Australia T20 squad: Steve Smith (c), David Warner, Jason Behrendorff, Dan Christian, Nathan Coulter-Nile, Patrick Cummins, Aaron Finch, Travis Head, Moises Henriques, Glenn Maxwell, Tim Paine, Kane Richardson, Adam Zampa.

India squad (first three ODIs): Virat Kohli (c), Rohit Sharma (vc), KL Rahul, Manish Pandey, Kedar Jadhav, Ajinkya Rahane, MS Dhoni (wk), Hardik Pandya, Axar Patel, Kuldeep Yadav, Yuzvendra Chahal, Jasprit Bumrah, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Umesh Yadav, Mohammed Shami.

ODI Fixtures

September 17: MA Chidambaram Stadium, Chennai

September 21: Eden Gardens, Kolkata

September 24: Holkar Cricket Stadium, Indore

September 28: M Chinnaswamy Stadium, Bengaluru

October 1: VCA Stadium, Nagpur

T20 Fixtures

October 7: JSCA International Stadium, Ranchi

October 10: Barsapara Stadium, Guwahati

October 13: Rajiv Gandhi International Stadium, Hyderabad