Former Australia captain Mark Taylor believes six spots are up for grabs in Australia’s Test XI ahead of the first Test of the summer early next month.
Taylor says only five members of the most recent Test side, which lost to Sri Lanka in Colombo in September to surrender a 3-0 series whitewash, are certainties for the opening Commonwealth Bank Test against South Africa at the WACA Ground in Perth.
"I’ll tell you the people who pick themselves at the moment: (David) Warner, (Steve) Smith, (Peter) Nevill, (Mitchell) Starc, (Josh) Hazlewood and I think everyone else at this stage will be talked about," Taylor told cricket.com.au's The Unplayable Podcast.
"I don’t think there’s anyone else who absolutely penned in at the moment.
"If you look at our last Test match (in Colombo), all of a sudden (Joe) Burns and (Usman) Khawaja are out in Sri Lanka after having pretty good summers. I’m sure they’ll come back into calculation.
"I think there’s probably six spots there that are not penned in at the moment and it’ll come down to some of these Matador Cup matches and that round of (Sheffield) Shield games (prior to the first Test) will be vitally important."
Taylor’s assessment leaves incumbent batsmen Shaun Marsh and Adam Voges, allrounders Mitchell Marsh and Moises Henriques, and spinners Nathan Lyon and Jon Holland needing to prove their wares ahead of November 3.
Of the sextet, only Mitch Marsh has been on international duty with Australia’s ODI squad that will return home from South Africa as the first Australian team to lose 5-0 in a bilateral 50-over series.
The other five have been playing in the Matador BBQs One-Day Cup where Henriques has starred, scoring a career-best 164no against the Cricket Australia XI and averaging 123 in three matches.
Voges (Test average of 72.75) and Shaun Marsh (130 in his last Test) are strong chances of retaining their spot in starting XI, as is veteran spinner Lyon (211 Test wickets) despite taking only one wicket at 128 in the Matador Cup to date.
It’s unlikely Holland will retain his place with Australia traditionally playing only one spinner on home soil, opening the door for another seamer to partner Starc and Hazlewood.
Tasmanian paceman Jackson Bird is the incumbent third seamer having donned the Baggy Green the last time Australia employed a trio of specialist speedsters, against New Zealand in February.
The Queensland pair of Burns and Khawaja will likely come into contention for the Perth Test after scoring six centuries between them last international summer, but according to Taylor, the aspirants need to put some solid performances on the board, and soon, if they are to be selected to take on the Proteas in just three weeks' time.
"They’ve got to prove their selection, that’s the way I would be looking at it if I was a selector," Taylor said.
"I’d be looking at everyone saying ‘OK, I’ve got no-one penned in apart from those five I mentioned. After that you’re all fighting for a spot.'
"I think if we have that, then you’ve got everyone believing they’re a chance, playing their best cricket and keeping each other under a bit of pressure to perform and that’s what you need."
The Matador Cup concludes on October 23 before the first round of the Sheffield Shield competition starts two days later with day-night matches in Brisbane, Melbourne and Perth.