Pakistan A v Australia 4-Day
Langer juggles his first Test XI puzzle
Two key positions yet to be decided as coach confirms two debuts for his first Test as coach
Louis Cameron in Dubai
3 October 2018, 01:31 PM AEST
Australia coach Justin Langer has cast doubt over Matthew Renshaw's involvement in the first Test against Pakistan, but confirmed Aaron Finch and Travis Head were "certainties" to receive Baggy Greens this Sunday.
Marnus Labuschagne and Michael Neser could join them in making debuts as Australia's selection puzzle was left with two major pieces missing following their drawn four-day tour match against Pakistan A.
The first piece is the Test readiness of Renshaw, who was floored by a powerful blow to the helmet while fielding at short leg on the tour game's second day but is yet to suffer any major side-effects. He was back on drinks duty and running laps in searing heat on Tuesday.
Langer's concern however is over the 22-year-old's lack of match practice; Renshaw has now suffered finger, hamstring and head injuries over the past three-and-a-half months, cutting short a county stint with Somerset and interrupting his involvement in the Australia A tour of India.
"I think Matthew Renshaw will be physically fine - the one thing he's got is he hasn't played much cricket," Langer told reporters in Dubai.
"He went on the Australia A trip, he got a hamstring strain … he hasn't spent much time in the middle. That's going to be the issue for him.
"It's going to be an instinct call. We've got to weigh up what he's done in the past. He's obviously a very good young player. We've got to work out whether he's spent enough time out in the middle to be ready for a Test match."
Renshaw made 0 and 19 in the second four-day game of the 'A' series last month after also featuring in two one-day games, while three centuries in 11 first-class innings for Somerset earlier this year saw him rise to the top of County Championship's first division leading run-scorers before his departure in June.
His absence for Australia would pave the way for Labuschagne, who was originally a surprise inclusion in the 15-man squad but has done his chances of a debut no harm in the tour match.
After being substituted in for Renshaw, he scored an unbeaten 39, took a catch at short leg and looked a threat with his leg-spinners on the final day.
"We've seen in the history of Australian cricket a lot of people take their opportunities through injury," Langer said.
"I thought Marnus fielded brilliantly but was really good with the bat yesterday, bowled a few overs. He's certainly put a strong case forward for selection as well."
The other piece of the puzzle for Langer, on-duty selector Trevor Hohns and captain Tim Paine is who partners Mitchell Starc as the second paceman.
Michael Neser appeared to have the inside running given his selection ahead of Peter Siddle and Brendan Doggett for the tour match and Langer said he only advanced his case with his showing despite picking up just the single wicket.
Neser, a right-arm quick who helped Queensland take out last summer's Sheffield Shield title with 39 wicket at 22, bowled with good pace and accuracy against Pakistan A while he also has a domestic List A century to his name.
But the vast experience of Siddle could see him pip him for the first Test, says the coach.
"(Neser) impressed us, he always does. He has a red-hot dip every time he plays, he's a good fielder, he's brilliant around the team," Langer continued.
"We weigh up 211 Test wickets and a guy (Siddle) who's bowling really well, a real professional. He's been a veteran. The role he'd play with his experience, we (selectors) have got to talk really seriously about that."
While Australia are yet to determine whether they'll need to unveil a third and fourth Baggy Green on Sunday morning, Finch and Head are set to become Test players No.453 and No.454 respectively.
Both are experienced international limited-overs batsmen, with Finch set to open the batting for the Test side having struck a half-century there against Pakistan A on Sunday. Head will bat in the middle order after posting an impressive unbeaten 90 on Monday.
"There was never any doubt over those two for me, I thought they were certainties to play," Langer said.
"Aaron Finch - I can't wait to see him play Test cricket. He's been brilliant in white-ball cricket over the last few years, he's got the temperament for international cricket.
"He's playing really well. He's one of the leaders of our group.
"Travis Head – his improvement over the last … six months is absolutely amazing. He's starting to look like an AFL (Australian Football League) player, he's really fit. The way he's adapted his game and improved his game, particularly against spin.
"He played brilliantly in the Australia A stuff, he's really impressive and he deserves to have a Baggy Green cap."
Australia are set to resume training later this week at the ICC Academy, before they get a look at the nearby Dubai International Cricket Stadium for the first time a day out from the series-opener.
Qantas Tour of the UAE
Australia Test squad: Tim Paine (c), Ashton Agar, Brendan Doggett, Aaron Finch, Travis Head, Jon Holland, Usman Khawaja, Marnus Labuschagne, Nathan Lyon, Mitch Marsh, Shaun Marsh, Michael Neser, Matthew Renshaw, Peter Siddle, Mitchell Starc
Pakistan Test squad: Sarfraz Ahmed (c), Azhar Ali, Fakhar Zaman, Imam-ul-Haq, Babar Azam, Asad Shafiq, Haris Sohail, Usman Salahuddin, Yasir Shah, Shadab Khan, Bilal Asif, Mohammad Abbas, Hasan Ali, Wahab Riaz, Faheem Ashraf, Mir Hamza, Mohammad Rizwan, Mohammad Hafeez
Sep 29 - Oct 2: Tour match v Pak A, Dubai
Oct 7-11: First Test, Dubai
Oct 16-20: Second Test, Abu Dhabi