Queensland’s Marnus Labuschagne has been added to Australia’s squad for the fourth Domain Test in Sydney, putting more scrutiny on the incumbent Aussie batsmen ahead of the series decider.
Having had already named a 13-man squad for the MCG and SCG Tests following their victory in Perth last week, the Australians have now added Labuschagne for a Test the hosts must win in order to avoid their first-ever Test series defeat against India on home soil.
The leg-spinning allrounder has not replaced anyone in the squad, although allrounder Mitchell Marsh and opener Aaron Finch are under the most pressure to hold their spots for the final Test of the series.
“We’ll get up to Sydney and have a look at the conditions,” skipper Tim Paine said as he confirmed Labuschagne’s inclusion.
"From what we’re hearing, it’ll probably spin quite a bit so once we see that for ourselves, we’ll start to think about the best combination for ourselves to win that Test."
Paine said there will be "a lot of things on the table" when selectors meet in Sydney, with Finch an option to move down the order from the opening spot he's filled in the opening three Tests of the series.
“We think we’ve got the best group of players available to us at the moment and we’ll pick the best combination for that group that we think will win the last Test,” he said.
Having made his Test debut against Pakistan in the UAE in October, Labuschagne was dropped for the start of the Indian series as Peter Handscomb and then allrounder Marsh came into the middle order.
The right-hander averaged 28 from five JLT Sheffield Shield matches following the Pakistan series, including scores of 52, 4, 47, 21 and 78 in his final three matches before the mid-season break.
Having in taking seven wickets at 22 with his leg-spin in the UAE, he also bowled 76 overs for the Bulls in the Shield competition, taking two wickets at 59.
And it’s Labuschagne’s bowling that might give him the edge in the race for a spot in the final XI at the SCG; while Marsh failed twice with the bat in the third Test, he bowled 26 invaluable overs in India’s first innings to give Australia’s overworked attack a much-needed break, a role Labuschagne could fill in Sydney.
"We're not quite sure what we're going to get with the Sydney wicket," Australia’s assistant coach Brad Haddin told SEN this morning.
"The last few Shield games have been draws, it's been flat and starting to turn late.”
Australia’s top six and reserve batsmen Handscomb were put through their paces by fitness staff on the MCG this morning, completing sprints on the outfield after Australia lost their first six wickets for less than 160 runs in both innings of the third Test.
"There will be questions asked. There has to be," Haddin said when asked if the batting order will be looked at in Sydney.
"You've got to start asking questions. If you're not performing with the bat or the ball, questions will be asked.
"That's part and parcel of international cricket.
"You can't hide away from the pressure ... there is a lot of hurt from everyone in that change room."
The former keeper noted Australia are an "inexperienced team, having some really good days and some really low days".
"As coaching staff, we have to find that consistency with our players," Haddin said.
- with AAP
Domain Test Series v India
Dec 6-10: India won by 31 runs
Dec 14-18: Australia won by 146 runs
Dec 26-30: India won by 137 runs
Jan 3-7: Fourth Test, SCG
Australia squad: Tim Paine (c, wk), Josh Hazlewood (vc), Mitch Marsh (vc), Pat Cummins, Aaron Finch, Peter Handscomb, Marcus Harris, Travis Head, Usman Khawaja, Marnus Labuschagne, Nathan Lyon, Shaun Marsh, Peter Siddle, Mitchell Starc
India squad: Virat Kohli (c), Murali Vijay, KL Rahul, Mayank Agarwal, Cheteshwar Pujara, Ajinkya Rahane, Hardik Pandya, Hanuma Vihari, Rohit Sharma, Rishabh Pant (wk), Parthiv Patel (wk), Ravi Ashwin, Ravi Jadeja, Kuldeep Yadav, Mohammed Shami, Ishant Sharma, Umesh Yadav, Jasprit Bumrah, Bhuvneshwar Kumar