Domain Test Series v Pakistan
The selection questions for the first Test
David Warner’s opening partner and the middle order make up Australia’s key questions leading into Gabba Test
14 November 2019, 05:15 AM AEST
At some point on Wednesday evening in Perth, coach Justin Langer and national selector Trevor Hohns would have narrowed down the list of names that will make up Australia's squad for the first Domain Test against Pakistan.
There's only a couple of spots in the batting line-up that are up for debate: one opener to partner David Warner, and the make-up of the middle-order ahead of wicketkeeper and captain Tim Paine.
A 14-man squad will be named on Thursday afternoon, which will be further whittled down internally before the first ball is bowled at the Gabba next Thursday morning.
Who fills the fringe spots of the 14-man squad remains to be seen. One is likely to be a spare fast bowler, with Mitchell Starc and James Pattinson expected to battle for the final spot in the playing XI to make up Australia's attack alongside Pat Cummins, Josh Hazlewood and Nathan Lyon.
Extra batsmen may pose a more lengthy discussion. A glance out the window of Langer and Hohn's meeting room at the Perth Stadium would reveal an Australia A's first-innings scorecard displaying less than desirable viewing.
That capitulation wasn't quite the response they would have been hoping for when they assembled the high-powered 'A' side in bid to create a pressure-cooker atmosphere with Baggy Green caps up for grabs.
But selection, which Langer freely admits is the hardest part of his role as Australia coach, is much more than crunching raw stats as they seek to make a team out of the group of talented individuals.
"We don’t just select on numbers, otherwise the scorer could select the team," Langer said recently.
"Selection is one of the toughest parts of the job because we have a lot of talent, and by the time these Shield and Australia A games are played out we look back at what happened in England and their careers.
"We will come up with a good top six. We select on all these other layers.
"One thing I have learnt is that most people see on the surface, how someone performs in state cricket. We get the best seat in the house, how they train, how they are around the group, how they are towards the public, batting technique."
All those factors will go into the mix when Langer and Hohns sit down to pen the names down.
The first knock is one the players and selectors alike will be keen to discard: Joe Burns (0), Marcus Harris (16), Travis Head (13), Usman Khawaja (6), Will Pucovski (5) and Alex Carey (0) all failed to leave Australia A teetering at 6-44 in response to Pakistan's 428 (including two batsmen who retired out having scored centuries).
The Test side will feature Steve Smith and Marnus Labuschagne, with Warner at the top of the order.
One of the middle order berths is almost certainly going to Matthew Wade, who hit two Ashes centuries and has continued his good form in the Marsh Sheffield Shield. In six Shield knocks so far this season, Wade has 315 runs at 63, with three fifties including today's 89 against South Australia in Adelaide.
The other appears to be a straight shoot-out between Travis Head and Will Pucovski, with the former Australia's Test vice-captain before being dropped for the fifth Test at The Oval for allrounder Mitch Marsh.
He hit a century for South Australia against the strong NSW bowling line-up this season, but would be chastened by his rash shot to gift his wicket in Perth on Tuesday evening.
The opening berth is the most contentious, with no clear standout having made an irresistible case. Indeed even Warner, who has 21 Test centuries to his name, comes into the series under a cloud given his disastrous run of form in the Ashes series that yielded the lowest ever return for an opener playing all five Tests.
Harris has benefited by playing at the Junction Oval, Burns the opposite for his early season trials on Gabba greentops (where, it must be said, Warner scored a century in the opening round to put some of those Ashes ghosts to rest).
Khawaja has been touted as a potential opener – he boasts an impressive track record in the position in Tests with 484 runs at 96.80, albeit from only seven innings – while Cameron Bancroft may have put himself back into the mix with his efforts for Australia A.
Bancroft's 49 at No.6 was the only knock of substance in the innings, with the Western Australian a last-minute inclusion in the side following Nic Maddinson's withdrawal on mental health grounds.
South Australia's Tom Cooper, with 499 runs before he bats in the second innings against Tasmania, is the Shield's leading run-scorer this season, while Shaun Marsh has also positioned himself for a Test recall, with 436 runs at 72.66 for WA this summer, including an epic 214.
Domain Test Series v Pakistan
Australia squad: TBC
Pakistan squad: Azhar Ali (c), Abid Ali, Asad Shafiq, Babar Azam, Haris Sohail, Imam-ul-Haq, Imran Khan Snr, Iftikhar Ahmed, Kashif Bhatti, Mohammad Abbas, Mohammad Rizwan (wk), Musa Khan, Naseem Shah, Shaheen Shah Afridi, Shan Masood, Yasir Shah.
Warm-up match: v Australia A, November 11-13, Perth Stadium (d/n)
Warm-up match: v Cricket Australia XI, November 15-16, WACA Ground
First Test: November 21-25, Gabba (Seven, Fox & Kayo)