Selectors face 'big questions' over batting line-up
Australia's batters will be in the spotlight at this week's tour match in Derby with the impending return of Steve Smith and form of Marnus Labuschagne creating a squeeze
26 August 2019, 05:03 PM AEST
Coach Justin Langer says there are "big questions" hanging over Australia's misfiring top six, setting the scene for a cut-throat batting showdown this week.
England's remarkable victory in Leeds has sharpened the focus on Australia's selectors, who will drop one of their incumbent batsmen for the fourth Test assuming Steve Smith makes his return from concussion.
Marnus Labuschagne, Smith's replacement at Lord's and Headingley, appears safe after he posted three gritty half-centuries in as many innings, meaning Marcus Harris, Usman Khawaja or even first-Test century-maker Matt Wade could be forced to make way for Smith.
The selection conundrum means Australia's tour match against Derbyshire this week will carry extra weight, and Langer says his batsmen simply need to do better if his side are to retain the Ashes with a win in either of the final two Tests.
"One thing I do know is we're not batting well enough at the moment," Langer said on Monday.
"I said at the start of the series that the team that bats best will win the Ashes. We're certainly not at our best with our batting at the moment.
"We've got some real questions to ask for the practice game and then the fourth Test match."
Australia will take on Derbyshire in a three-day tour game starting on Thursday, with Smith set to play as he bids to prove his fitness for the fourth Test in Manchester, which starts on September 4.
If Smith returns to the Test side as expected, selectors will have to decide if they want to drop Harris (who scored 8 and 19 at Headingley) just one Test after he was recalled, a move that would likely see Khawaja move up to open and Smith slotted back into the middle order.
Khawaja is far from safe having posted middling scores of 13, 40, 36, 2, 8 and 23 so far in the series, although former Test skipper Ricky Ponting told cricket.com.au this week he'd be reluctant to drop one of Australia's most experienced Test players.
Langer said Khawaja is one of several Australian batsmen looking to find his best.
"Uzzy's played a lot of cricket (and) he averages over 40 in Test match cricket," Langer said.
"He got a Test hundred seven innings ago … so we know he's a very good player. And he, like the rest of them, will be working hard to be ready for the fourth Test."
The batting squeeze could also put pressure on Wade, who has posted four single-figure scores alongside his breakthrough century in the first Test three weeks ago.
Test rookies Labuschagne and Travis Head appear safe having impressed in their maiden Ashes campaigns, while David Warner looked back to his old self at Headingley this week.
Langer's first task is to decide who to leave out of the match in Derby, saying selectors have to juggle a desire for batsmen to spend time in the middle with giving players a rest approaching the tail-end of an exhaustive northern summer of cricket.
"We can't fit them all in, that's one issue we've got," he said.
"We've also got to work out after a long summer, we're going to have to rest some players, just to give them a mental freshen up more than anything.
"We've got two back-to-back Test matches to win or lose the Ashes … we're going to have to give guys time to freshen up. They've been here for Australia A or the World Cup and sometimes the mental breaks is as important as anything.
"So they're the questions that will be asked - who do we give a break to? Who do we play? All those sort of things we'll have to ask."
2019 Qantas Ashes Tour of England
Australia squad: Tim Paine (c), Cameron Bancroft, Pat Cummins, Marcus Harris, Josh Hazlewood, Travis Head, Usman Khawaja, Marnus Labuschagne, Nathan Lyon, Mitchell Marsh, Michael Neser, James Pattinson, Peter Siddle, Steve Smith, Mitchell Starc, Matthew Wade, David Warner.
England squad: Joe Root (c), Moeen Ali, Jimmy Anderson, Jofra Archer, Jonny Bairstow, Stuart Broad, Rory Burns, Jos Buttler, Sam Curran, Joe Denly, Jason Roy, Ben Stokes (vc), Olly Stone, Chris Woakes.
First Test: Australia won by 251 runs at Edgbaston
Second Test: Match drawn at Lord's
Third Test: England won by one wicket at Headingley
Tour match: Australians v Derbyshire, August 29-31
Fourth Test: September 4-8, Old Trafford
Fifth Test: September 12-16, The Oval